A few years ago, I traveled to Scotland for 3 months for my PhD program. As someone that has toured many small town cemeteries in America, the Scottish cemeteries were quite the cultural shock. Before reaching my final destination of Dundee, Scotland, I stayed in Edinburgh for a few days. When not drinking Scotch and reading in pubs, I was in Greyfriars Kirkyard: a graveyard that houses a loyal dog and a violent poltergeist. Burying people since the late 16th century, the graveyard is home to many interesting people and stories.
Greyfriars Bobby was a Skye Terrier who supposedly guarded his deceased owner’s grave in the kirkyard for 14 years. After Bobby passed on January 14, 1872, he was buried not too far from his owner’s grave. When I saw his grave (below) it was covered with sticks, which I assumed were for a heavenly game of fetch. A fountain (above) was built on the corner of Candlemaker Row and George IV Bridge in Edinburgh. While some challenge the validity of the story, I think it’s too sweet to fact-check.
While a sweet dog sleeps near his owner, another resident attacks visitors. Located in the graveyard is an eerie mausoleum (below) with the tomb of Sir George Mackenzie. Nicknamed Bluidy Mackenzie, he is buried among many that he harmed on earth:
In the 17th century, Scotland was going through an intense religious struggle, started by King Charles introducing the Common Book of Prayer and declaring all opposition to the book an act of treason and the draconian lawyer George Mackenzie was the man responsible for putting the opposition down.
George Mackenzie was a lawyer and the Lord Advocate during the rule of Charles II and quickly earned a reputation as one of the most vicious persecutors of the covenanters, the people who rose up and signed the National Covenant in 1638, around. Mackenzie’s brutal and unfeeling treatment of the protesters even earned him the moniker “Bluidy Mackenzie.” Many covenanters were imprisoned in a section of Greyfriars Kirkyard in Edinburgh, where he delighted in their torture; guards were allowed to beat the covenanters at will, and eventually their heads would decorate the spiked gate. (Atlas Obscura)
The violent history related to the kirkyard has left an aggressive residual energy, leaving many visitors with scratch marks and bites:
The earliest story relates to a boy from the adjacent George Heriot’s School fleeing a corporal punishment and hiding within the tomb. He allegedly became trapped inside and went mad as a result. More tangible as a story is the 2004 verified story of teenage Goths who entered the tomb via the ventilation slot to the rear (now sealed). They reached the lower vault (containing the coffins) broke the coffins open and stole a skull. Police arrived as they were playing football with the skull on the grass. The pair narrowly escaped imprisonment on the little-used but still extant charge of violation of the dead.
In 1998 a new phenonenum materialised dubbed The Mackenzie Poltergeist. Between 1990 and 2006 it is alleged that there were 350 reported attacks and 170 reports of people collapsing. Night-time visitors (on the ghost-tours) reported being cut, bruised, bitten, scratched and most commonly blacking out. Some complained later of bruises, scratches and gouge-marks on their bodies. No day-time events were reported. Most attacks and feelings of unease occurred in MacKenzie’s Black Mausoleum and the Covenantors Prison. As a publicity stunt this also led in 2000, to an exorcist exorcising the graveyard. (Wikipedia)
I luckily left his grave unscathed and the doors are locked, which stopped me from doing anything stupid.
If you are brave enough, maybe you can visit and sing the old children’s rhyme: “Bluidy Mackingie, come oot if ye daur, lift the sneck and draw the bar!” Or not. Probably don’t.
The poltergeist was featured on Episode 19: “Bite Marks” of the Lore podcast, which I highly recommend.
Greyfriars Kirkyard is an interesting representation of the good and evil on earth…and in the afterlife. A place where many are laid to rest, the graveyard is alive in many ways. As the Scottish writer Walter Scott once said, “Death–the last sleep? No, it is the final awakening.”
5 thoughts on “Cemetery Tour: Greyfriars Kirkyard”
Gorgeous sculptural work! My dad used to tell me the story of Greyfriars Bobby when I was a kid.
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It’s a sweet story. I wonder if my dog would do the same? Ha. The sculptures were so interesting and extra daunting on a rainy day. Thanks for stopping by!
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Anytime! I love your blog!
My wife and I have a sort-of hobby of staying in haunted b&b’s, hotels, former brothels, houses, etc., and so far have yet to have a ghostly experience (we’re from Texas, in case you’re wondering). In this spirit, we toured the Kirkyard during a recent visit to Edinburgh. Had a very good guide who had the history down pat. Even though it was a cold, rainy evening, no ghostly encounters occurred (sigh). Definitely worth checking out if you get the opportunity. Very spooky but no ghosts or poltergeists.
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Sorry for the delayed response. I’m not getting alerts it seems. 😦 A tour of the kirkyard sounds wonderful. Mine was only self guided. What a wonderful experience!