There are two stories that are well known when someone mentions Greyfriar’s Cemetery in Edinburg, Scotland. First is usually the story of Greyfriar’s Bobby, one of the many tales around the world of how faithful our canine companions can truly be. Second is the story of the MacKenzie Poltergeist, where people have allegedly been physically attacked by unseen forces.
Each of these stories is interesting – and in the case of Bobby, heartwarming – but there’s more to Greyfriar’s than meets the eye. Situated beside Greyfriar’s Kirk (the Scottish word for church), both the church and cemetery sit on land previously occupied by a Franciscan convent, hence the name Greyfriars (this term refers to the colour of their grey robes as there is also the Blackfriars who wear black robes). The church was the site of the famous signing of the National Covenant in 1638 and part of the cemetery was used to house the prisoners who refused to sign the Covenant. The area known as Covenanter’s Prison wasn’t originally part of the cemetery grounds, but became such some time after.
If you ever visit the cemetery, you will notice that it sits above street level. This is due to the piles of bodies beneath the ground as you walk through the cemetery. Under normal circumstances, walking on any preset trails in a cemetery will allow you to avoid walking on the graves of the dead. In Greyfriars it is impossible to avoid because there were so many mass graves where people were piled up layer by layer over the years. When it rains really hard, the buried sometimes make a second appearance. 😉