This is the beautiful Greyfriars Kirkyard in Edinburgh, Scotland. The cemetery is perched on a hill overlooking the “new” town which was built in the 1700’s. It is seemingly an idyllic cemetery dating back to the 1560’s in the city’s historic centre, however, it is believed to be the most haunted cemetery in the world. It has a steady stream of ghost hunters, wizarding fans (I will explain later), and TV producers and writers visiting. So in true Dark Hauntings style, I will tell you about the history then let you in on the spooky goings on.
The land, which was formerly a monastery garden, was given to the city by Mary Queen of Scots. St Giles churchyard was becoming over crowded so the land was to be used as an overflow cemetery. Work began on the Kirk, (Scottish for church), in 1602 and was completed in 1620. However, in 1845, a fire caused severe damage destroying much of the Kirk so little is left in the current building.
In February 28th 1638, the first copy of the National Covenant, a solemn agreement inaugurated by the Scottish churchmen, was presented and signed in front of the pulpit at Greyfriars. This started a fierce religious conflict which lasted for half a century. In 1679, 1200 supporters of the National Covenant were brought to Edinburgh following the battle of Bothwell Brig. Four hundred of these supporters were held in an area now known as the Covenanters’ Prison in Greyfriars Kirkyard
The covenanter prisoners waited for over four years for their trial in appalling conditions. In fact the conditions were so inhumane that the prison is often described as the world’s first concentration camp. They had no shelter, so had to battle against the elements, they slept on the cold, wintery ground with snipers posted to shoot anyone that would move in the night, and they were given a daily food allowance of just 4oz of bread. Contact with anyone from the city who might dare show them comfort was forbidden. Some of the prisoners died from disease or executed for treason, and buried in the Kirkyard. Some managed to escape, but if one person was to escape, ten would be lined up against the high wall and shot. 257 prisoners survived by pledging loyalty to the crown and sentenced to deportation with the intention of being sold as slaves. However, they did not live long for their ship sank off the Orkney Islands where they all sadly perished.
With that kind of history, it’s not a great surprise that Greyfriars has gained the reputation of being so haunted. Surly the victims could not rest quietly in their graves after such ill-treatment. The reputation of Greyfriars Kirkyard is not built on the sad tales of long-dead Covenanters, but instead linked with their chief persecutor, Sir George Mackenzie.
Mackenzie became Lord Advocate in 1667, and carried out the orders of King Charles II to persecute the Scottish Covenanters. The inhumane way in which he carried out his duties earned him the nickname ‘Bloody Mackenzie.’ Sir Mackenzie died in 1691, and laid to rest in the black mausoleum. The Covenanters Prison is connected to Greyfriars Kirkyard by a stone gateway and a locked metal grate near Mackenzie’s mausoleum. His tomb is believed to be haunted.
Robert Louis Stevenson, writing in 1897, reported on the evil reputation Mackenzie and that part of Greyfriars Kirkyard gained:
“When a man’s soul is certainly in hell, his body will scarce lie quiet in a tomb however costly, sometime or other the door must open, and the reprobate come forth in the abhorred garments of death.”
He went on to report how:
“Foolhardy urchins [thought it] a high piece of prowess to knock at the Lord Advocate’s mausoleum and challenge him to appear. ‘Bloody Mackenzie, come oot if ye dar’!”
Greyfriars has had its fair share of reports of ghostly phenomena from people visiting the Covenanters Prison, including hot and cold spots, strange smells, spooky apparitions, disembodied voices, nausea, feelings of extreme unease, and even passing out. Some have even claimed that they have suffered physical attacks from an unseen entity, resulting in scratches, burns, bruises, and broken bones. Most of these claims are reported to happen in and around the black mausoleum.
The Greyfriars Kirkyard has not always experienced these strange occurrences, they began in 1999. On a cold and stormy night, a homeless man broke into the mausoleum seeking shelter. After breaking in, he came upon a chamber containing Bloody Mackenzies coffin. Believing that the coffin would be filled with valuables, he decided to break into it, but in the pitch blackness, he stumbled and fell into an open pit filled with the bones of plague victims. The man ran out of the mausoleum terrified and screaming just as the grounds man and his dog approached it. Can you imagine the blind panic? Some people believe that the malevolent spirit is that of Lord Advocate who was awakened from his guilty slumber and is now known as the Mackenzie Poltergeist.
Now as promised you was probably wondering why wizardry fans would visit Greyfriars Kirkyard? Well I will tell you. The cemetery is a few short steps away from the now-landmarked Elephant House Cafe, where J.K. Rowling first wrote a few lines of Harry Potter, overlooking George Hariot’s School. Among the graves at the kirkyard is one with a headstone reading “Thomas Riddel” which many fans believe may have inspired the birth name of Lord Voldemort. Fans travel from afar to visit the grave and leave notes and flowers on the 197 year old grave.
I certainly think Greyfriars Kirkyard looks and sounds chilling with amazing history attached. I am currently planning a visit to Edinburgh to take a look at Greyfriars Kirkyard and visit other haunted locations with fantastic history. Check out the City of the Dead’s website for more information on tours at Greyfriers Kirkyard: https://www.cityofthedeadtours.com/