Greyfriars Kirkyard

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Greyfriars Kirkyard
Greyfriars Kirkyard - 03.jpg
Greyfriars Kirkyard
Established 1561 - 1562
Location Old Town, Edinburgh
Country Scotland
Type Public
Owned by City of Edinburgh Council
Size ?

Greyfriars Kirkyard is the graveyard surrounding Greyfriars Kirk in Edinburgh, Scotland. It is located at the southern edge of the Old Town, adjacent to George Heriot's School. Burials have been taking place since the late 16th century, and a number of notable Edinburgh residents are interred at Greyfriars. The Kirkyard is operated by City of Edinburgh Council in liaison with a charitable trust, which is linked to but separate from the church. The Kirkyard and its monuments are protected as a category A listed building.[1]


Greyfriars takes its name from the Franciscan friary on the site, which was dissolved in 1559. The churchyard was founded in 1561/

Because it is thoct gude that thair be na buriall within the Kirk, and that the kirk-zaird is nocht of sufficient rowme for bureing of the deid, and for esdrewing of the savour and inconvenientis that may follow thairupon in the heit of somer, it would be providit that ane buriall place be maid farrer from the myddis of the town, sic as in the Greyfreir zaird and the somyn biggit and maid close.[2]

Because it is thought beneficial that there should be no more burials within the church [ie St Giles], and because that kirkyard is not thought to have sufficient room for burying the dead, and taking into consideration the smell and inconvenience in the heat of summer, it would be provided [by the council] that a burial place be made further from the middle of town, such as in Greyfriars yard, and the same [should be] built up and made secure.

Hill & Adamson photograph dated 1848, showing D O Hill sketching at the Dennystoun Monument, watched by the Misses MorCris.

The Kirkyard was involved in the history of the Covenanters. The Covenanting movement began with signing of the National Covenant in Greyfriars Kirk on 28 February 1638. Following the defeat of the militant Covenanters at Bothwell Brig in 1679, some 1200 Covenanters were imprisoned in a field to the south of the churchyard. When, in the 18th century, part of this field was amalgamated into the churchyard as vaulted tombs the area became known as the "Covenanters' Prison".

During the early days of photography in the 1840s the kirkyard was used by David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson as a setting for several portraits and tableaux such as The Artist and The Gravedigger.

Greyfriars Bobby[edit]

The graveyard is associated with Greyfriars Bobby, the loyal dog who guarded his master's grave. Bobby's headstone at the entrance to the Kirkyard, erected by the Dog Aid Society in 1981, marks his actual burial place in an unconsecrated patch of the Kirkyard - a peculiarity which has led to many misunderstandings and fictions about his burial. The dog's statue is opposite the graveyard's gate, at the junction of George IV Bridge and Candlemaker Row. The grave of Edinburgh police officer John Gray, where the dog famously slept for 13 years, lies on the eastern path, some 30m north of the entrance. The stone is modern, the grave originally being unmarked.


Mortsafes to deter 'resurrectionists' from exhuming the dead before the 1832 Anatomy Act regulated the legal supply of corpses for medical purposes.

Enclosed vaults are found mainly on the south edge of the graveyard and in the "Covenanters' Prison". These either have solid stone walls or iron railings and were created as a deterrent to grave robbing, which had become a problem in the eighteenth century. Greyfriars also has two low ironwork cages, called mortsafes. These were leased, and protected bodies for long enough to deter the attentions of the early nineteenth century resurrection men who supplied Edinburgh Medical College with corpses for dissection.

Notable monuments include the Martyr's Monument, which commemorates executed Covenanters. The Italianate monument to Sir George Mackenzie was designed by the architect James Smith, and modelled on the Tempietto di San Pietro, designed by Donato Bramante.[3] Duncan Ban MacIntyre's memorial was renovated in 2005, at a cost of about £3,000, raised by a fundraising campaign of over a year.[4] The monument of John Byres of Coates, 1629, was one of last works of the royal master mason William Wallace.

Tomb of Sir George Mackenzie, by James Smith

Alleged paranormal activities[edit]

Since 1998, when a homeless person broke into Mackenzie's mausoleum for the night, Greyfriars Churchyard has been the epicentre of an escalation of unexplained events linked to the ghost of Mackenzie; known colloquially as the Mackenzie Poltergeist. The Mackenzie Poltergeist has been called the most well-documented paranormal phenomenon in the world.[5] Even before 1999, there had been reports of unusual disturbances in the graveyard. Between 1990 and 2006 there were 350 reported attacks and 170 reports of people collapsing.[6] Visitors reported being cut, bruised, bitten, scratched and most commonly blacking out. Some complained later of bruises, scratches and gouge-marks on their bodies. Most attacks and feelings of unease occurred in MacKenzie's Black Mausoleum and the Covenantors Prison. In 2000, an exorcist, Colin Grant was summoned to the graveyard to perform an exorcism ceremony; he was said to have picked up "evil forces" and claimed that the forces were too overpowering and feared that they could kill him. Two months later, he died suddenly of a heart attack.[5] Edinburgh City Council closed off that part of the cemetery until an Edinburgh-based historian and author, Jan Andrew Henderson, persuaded the council to allow controlled visits to that part of the churchyard and in turn this developed into a nocturnal guided tour, which became a local attraction. Greyfriars Churchyard and, in particular, MacKenzie's Poltergeist, have been featured on paranormal TV programmes, including Fox's Scariest Places on Earth, and ITV's Extreme Ghost Stories.

Notable burials[edit]

Monument to John Mylne, erected by his nephew Robert
The Pitcairne vault within the Covenanter's Prison, Greyfriars Kirkyard
Sir James McLurg's tomb in the Covenanter's Prison

(note-CP denotes graves within the sealed south-west section known as the Covenanter's Prison)



  1. ^ "Greyfriars Churchyard". Historic Scotland. Retrieved 2010-02-18. 
  2. ^ Edinburgh Council Records 23rd April 1561
  3. ^ Gifford, John (1989) William Adam 1689–1748, Mainstream Publishing / RIAS. pp.62–67
  4. ^
  5. ^ a b unknown (29 September 2006). "Moat Haunted". The Scotsman. Retrieved 19 May 2013. 
  6. ^ Clydesdale, Lyndsay (30 October 2006). "Spooky Scotland". Daily Record. Retrieved 19 May 2013. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 55°56′48″N 3°11′32″W / 55.94667°N 3.19222°W / 55.94667; -3.19222