The Most Haunted Cemetery in the World
by Loren Rhoads
In 1447, Franciscan monks (the so-called Gray Friars) built their friary at the north end of the Grassmarket on a slope with a lovely view of Edinburgh Castle. The Franciscans, a medical order, served the poor there until they were chased out of Scotland in 1558 by the Reformation.
Their friary yard was claimed by Queen Mary in 1562 for a public burial ground. Just in time, too. The graveyard was used “extensively” during the Black Plague of 1568.
At the foot of the cemetery’s east walk stands the Covenanters’ Monument, which remembers Scottish Presbyterians who died for their faith rather than convert to the Anglican Church founded by Henry VIII in England.
The scourge of the Covenanters was Sir George Mackenzie. He was a highly educated member of the Scottish Parliament, a lawyer, and a member of the Privy Council of Scotland. In 1677, he became Lord Advocate in the service of King Charles II of England, in charge of punishing anyone who refused to swear loyalty to King Charles or rejected the Church of England.
Four hundred Covenanters were imprisoned in Greyfriar’s Kirkyard in 1679. The guards abused them. They suffered from the weather, lack of shelter, and starvation. Many ended up buried anonymously in a mass grave in the Kirkyard. In all, Mackenzie is blamed for the deaths of nearly 18,000 people during the eight years dubbed “the Killing Time.”
Mackenzie himself died and was buried in the Kirkyard in 1691. His tomb stood quietly until 1998 when a homeless man broke into it. When the thief ransacked the coffins, the floor collapsed beneath him, spilling him into a plague pit full of bones beneath the mausoleum. The man managed to haul himself out, then ran screaming into the night.
Something had been unleashed.
For the past twenty years, Greyfriars Kirkyard has been considered one of the most haunted graveyards in the world. Visitors have been scratched, bruised, and bitten near Mackenzie’s mausoleum. Blasts of cold air chase some visitors away. Others become nauseous and disoriented or are struck with splitting headaches. One woman was found unconscious near the mausoleum with bruises like finger-marks around her neck.
In 2000, spiritualist minister Colin Grant attempted to exorcise the mausoleum. He felt the presence of hundreds of souls in torment and a presence of overwhelming evil. He fled the Kirkyard, but it was too late. He died unexpectedly of a heart attack several weeks later.
YouTube is full of videos of people showing off bite marks and bruises received while touring Greyfriars Kirkyard. Enter at your own risk.
Greyfriars Kirkyard is one of the 199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die by Loren Rhoads. She is also the author of Wish You Were Here: Adventures in Cemetery Travel and writes about graveyards for the Horror Writers Association. She blogs about cemeteries as vacation destinations at cemeterytravel.com.