Greyfriars Kirkyard is a cemetery officially founded in 1561 and reportedly had its first burial in the late 1500s. Since then, it’s become the resting place for many ‘well-known Scotsmen and women’ and some are rumoured to haunt the grounds of the graveyard, most famously by the ghost of ‘Bloody Mackenzie’.
BACKGROUND AND HISTORY
In the 17th century, Scotland, there as an ‘intense religious struggle’ which ignited when King Charles II instituted his new ‘prescribed liturgy’ the ‘Common Book of Prayer’ and declared all opposition to be ‘an act of treason’.
The ‘draconian’ lawyer, and Lord Advocate, George Mackenzie was the man responsible for putting down the opposition as part of ‘one of the bloodiest religious persecutions’ which ‘took place on the church grounds in the seventeenth century’. He ‘presided over the trials of the Presbyterian Covenanters’ in the 1670s.
He quickly ‘earned a reputation as one of the most vicious persecutors of the Covenanters’ and his ‘brutal and unfeeling treatment of the protesters’ earned him the moniker ‘Bluidy Mackenzie’.
Those not ‘pledging to the national religion’ were rounded up and imprisoned on the grounds of Greyfriars Kirkyard (a churchyard) in what was known as the ‘Covenanters’ Prison’. Mackenzie reportedly ‘delighted in their torture’ and allowed guards to ‘beat the Covenanters at will’ and eventually decorated the spiked gate of the Kirkyard with their heads. Roughly 1,200 Covenanters were reportedly imprisoned in a field next to Greyfriars Kirkyard.
The prisoners were held captive ‘over the winter months’, reportedly over four months, and subjected to ‘unspeakable torments’, mostly at the hands of Bloody MacKenzie. The prisoners were given a ‘daily food allowance of just 4oz of bread’ and conditions were ‘so inhumane that the Covenanters’ Prison is often described as the world’s first concentration camp’.
Bloody Mackenzie is believed to have ultimately been responsible for the deaths of over 18,000 Scots ‘in his pursuits to uphold the National Covenant’. Many prisoners were executed and hundreds died of maltreatment and this time period is often referred to as ‘The Killing Time’.
MacKenzie’s bloody ‘rule’ finally ended when he died in 1691 and he was entombed in a mausoleum on the grounds of Greyfriars Kirkyard. The mausoleum is also ‘directly connected’ to the stone archway that leads to the old Covenanter’s Prison.
“It was a fate predicted by famed Scottish poet Robert Louis Stevenson who referenced MacKenzie in his 1879 book ‘Edinburgh: Picturesque Notes,’ writing, When a man’s soul is certainly in hell, his body will scarce lie quiet in a tomb however costly; some time or other the door must open, and the reprobate come forth in the abhorred garments of the grave.”https://www.thedailybeast.com/welcome-to-the-most-haunted-graveyard-in-the-world-safety-not-guaranteed (TheDailyBeast.com, 2011)
The mausoleum of ‘Bloody Mackenzie’ has been the site of ‘a number of desecrations’ mostly notably in 1999 when a homeless man sought shelter in Mackenzie’s mausoleum from the ‘freezing Scottish weather’. The man broke into the mausoleum at night and reportedly, while trying to open Mackenzie’s casket to shelter in, a ‘sinkhole’ opened up beneath him and he fell into the pit below. Inside the pit he found a grave containing the ‘rotting remains’ of plague victims that had been buried ‘unceremoniously’ centuries earlier, and ran terrified from the pit.
More recently in 2004, a ‘duo of teens’ reportedly broke into the tomb and ‘removed a number of unidentified remains, even beheading one corpse and using the skull like a hand-puppet’. The two teens were ‘found and tried under a centuries-old grave-robbing law described’.
The doors to the mausoleum now remain locked, but visitors can still peek through and see the ‘old children’s rhyme’ – ‘Bluidy Mackingie, come oot if ye daur, lift the sneck and draw the bar!’. Reciting the rhyme is said to ‘send the ghost into a rage’.
Since the break-in in 1999 the cemetery has become the focus of much ‘local superstition’ and many people have reported ‘ghostly activity’ in and around the mausoleum, most of which has been attributed to Bloody Mackenzie’s poltergeist.
Following the desecration of the Black Mausoleum in 1999 visitors to Greyfriars Kirkyard have reportedly left the cemetery with ‘bruises, scratches (reportedly on arms, necks and chests’), bite marks, and burns’, had their hair pulled, been pushed, shoved or struck, and some have even passed out or ‘gotten sick’ and some have even reported bloody noses and broken bones. Some people have claimed to have heard noises in the graveyard and others have said that they felt nausea while ‘walking near the mausoleum’.
According to the Lore podcast, the very next day after the tomb was broken into in 1999, a woman was walking through the cemetery when, when going past the Black Mausoleum, she decided to ‘peer through one of the two small grates in the tomb door’. Reportedly, as she stood there ‘a gust of cold wind rushed out of the tomb with such force’ that she claims it ‘knocker her backward and off the stone steps’ and landed on her back.
A few days later another woman was reportedly found unconscious on the pavement outside the mausoleum ‘sprawled out on her back as if she had fallen’. The woman claimed that ‘invisible hands had grabbed her around the throat and attempted to strangle her and when she ‘pulled back the collar of her shirt her neck was ringed with a series of dark bruises as if fingertips had been driven into her skin’. ‘Soon after that’ a young man reportedly ‘experienced something eerily similar’.
Also on the Lore podcast, it’s stated that the burns, scratches and bruises people get around the tomb and cemetery often ‘disappear almost as quickly and mysteriously as they appeared’ but some claim to have been ‘permanently scarred’. Sometimes the physical attacks even reportedly occur later and not just at the Kirkyard.
Reportedly, a former police officer had gone on a tour of the cemetery, and, after returning to his hotel room that night he claimed to have picked up the ‘book he had been given on the tour’ when he did her felt a ‘sharp pain as if someone were trying to burn him. When he ran to the mirror he found ‘five deep scratches on his neck beneath his chin’.
The next day he visited his mother, told her what had happened to him and gave her the book as he ‘couldn’t stand to have it around any longer’. Reportedly, when he called her later and ‘asked about the book’ she was ‘in the bathroom and standing in front of the mirror examining five long scratches on her throat’.
There have also reportedly been an ‘unusually high number of dead animals’ found in the area around the black mausoleum’. There have also been ‘cold spots’ reported in the area as well as ‘electronic malfunctions’.
A guide who leads tours in Grefriar’s Kirkyard, Jan-Andrew Henderson, claims that he has ‘counted dozens of birds, lying unmarked but dead inside the prison’ and that he has ‘many photographs of injuries inflicted by the poltergeist’. He also claims to of had ‘over 100 pages’ of other ‘eyewitness’ accounts emailed to him.
“I’ve seen bites, burns and scratches appear mysteriously on visitors’ skin. I’ve watched people fall down unconscious or burst into tears, claiming something invisible was hitting them…. I often feel a bit sorry for our customers because they don’t really believe something supernatural will happen – until it does.”https://inews.co.uk/inews-lifestyle/travel/ghost-tour-guide-edinburgh-635087 (Henderson, 2017)
Henderson also claimed that on one tour, five children ‘began screaming in unison that something was choking them’. He claimed to have thought ‘they’d cooked up the story together’ before realising that ‘none of them knew each other’
One ‘loud American’ who ‘rubbished’ everything Henderson was saying before ‘toppling, out cold, into a large puddle’. Henderson also claimed that ‘on every tour a visitor will complain that their camera phone or watch has stopped working’ and that he has ‘seen the aftermath of numerous spontaneous fires that break out around Greyfriars’
Henderson eventually collected enough evidence to write a book about Greyfriar’s Mackenzie poltergeist – The Ghost That Haunted Itself. However, after the book was published, his flat, which ‘overlooked’ the graveyard, was ‘destroyed by a flash fire’ which ‘incinerated’ his notes’. Henderson now keeps his information on a hard drive.
A company which provides tours of the cemetery reportedly collected ‘photographs injuries, first hand accounts, letters from witnesses and other documentation’ for years when, in 2003, most of those records were destroyed. Reportedly a fire ‘swept through their office’ and ‘everything inside the tour company’s space was incinerated but nothing more’ and ‘every single nearby building remained untouched’ and their insurance company never found the cause of the fire.
Reportedly ‘over the last few years alone’ over 170 people have passed out during tours of the cemetery and there have been more than 500 ‘visually documented attacks’. ‘Tour purveyors’ who conduct nighttime tours of the graveyard, prison and mausoleum have reported that ‘many participants have emerged from inside the prison and mausoleum with bruises, burns, scratches, and even broken bones, attributed to long-dead prisoners and their violent oppressor’.
In 2006 The Scotsman reportedly wrote of a ‘suspicion’ that the Mackenzie Poltergeist was responsible for the death of one local psychic. One source claims that during a ‘channeling session’ the ghost of Mackenzie himself claimed responsibility for the psychics death. There has reportedly been two failed attempts at an exorcism in Greyfriars Kirkyard.
Whether this ‘exorcist’ who died and the ‘psychic’ who died are the same person is unclear
The attacks in and around the cemetery reportedly escalated to the point that the City of Edinburgh ‘closed off the Covenanters’ Prison from the public’ and now only allows ‘controlled visits to that section’.
“We stood in a tomb while our guide told us stories about the cemetery, the assaults, and instructions on what to do if someone on the tour passed out (yes, this happens). While I didn’t experience any assaults, my legs turned icy cold from the knee to my feet. And this was in July.”http://www.eatdrinktravel.com/most-haunted-graveyard-in-the-world-greyfriars-kirkyard/ (Jackson, 2019)
In November of 1999, Colin Grant, a ‘minister of a spiritualist church’, owner of a ‘Clairvoyant shop’, and reportedly ‘professional exorcist’, stood in the Greyfriars Kirkyard and performed an exorcism.
“He stood in front of the local press with a candle, a cross to ward off evil spirits, holding a Bible in his right hand and claimed he had finally cast out the spirits that had been trapped in graveyard for centuries.”https://www.spookyisles.com/death-by-ghost-in-edinburgh/ (The Spooky Isles, 2013)
His visit was reportedly ‘prompted by a visit to Covenanters Prison’. Grant was there to investigate claims by Jan Henderson that ‘forty nine people taking part in his ghost walks of the Covenanters Prison over the previous eight months had claimed to have had paranormal experiences’.
Grant also claimed that while he was performing the exorcism he felt ‘overwhelmed by the sensation of oppression, that hundreds of tormented souls were swirling around him trying to break through into our world’.
Reportedly, as the ritual ‘grew to a close’ a ‘dark shape’ was witnessed ‘gliding across a window in the Edinburgh church’. The church was supposedly locked and ‘no one was inside’. A photographer for the Edinburgh Evening News who was also there captured the dark shape in the window.
Terry McGourty, deputy picture editor, for the Edinburgh News said – ”The flashes were not pointing at the building so it’s difficult to see how it could be a shadow. I am usually sceptical about these things, but I can’t explain this at all”
Many of the other participants there also reported ‘feeling that they were being watched or touched by something and many came away with cuts and scratches on their faces’. One participant, Angela Hamilton, claimed that she ‘couldn’t catch her breath while visiting one of the prison cells’.
“Then I started to feel faint and the next thing I knew I was away sitting on the ground. Everyone was asking if I was alright but I was really confused. The next morning I woke up with a bruise on my left cheek and my neck. I couldn’t believe it as I was not aware of hurting myself when I fainted. I started feeling it must have been something to do with a ghost.”https://www.spookyisles.com/death-by-ghost-in-edinburgh/ (The Spooky Isles, 2013)
However, the exorcism that Grant performed ‘seemed ineffective’ and reportedly, two months later, further reports were made. ‘Not long after’ the exorcism, Colin Grant reportedly ‘expressed fears that his work would kill him’ and he later ‘died from a heart attack while speaking to the spirit world during a séance at the Clairvoyant Shop’
It is also believed that there is a ‘more benevolent presence that frequents the grounds of Greyfriars Kirkyard’, the ghost of a dog named Greyfriars Bobby. It’s believed that Bobby, a Skye Terrier, belonged to a man named John Gray. Reportedly, when John passed due to tuberculosis, Bobby ‘stood watch at his owner’s grave for fourteen years’, died in 1872 and was buried inside Greyfriars ‘not too far from where John is buried’
It’s now said that Bobby is still there, guarding the grave of his owner. Reportedly, people then began hearing the sounds of ‘disembodied’ barking ‘even when they didn’t see any dogs around’. Reportedly there have also been ‘countless reports of visitors sighting a small ghostly dog’. Visitors can also see a statue of Bobby outside the graveyard today.
The cemetery is now open for tours and ‘guided investigations’. However the tour guides do reportedly ‘make a point to let first-timers know that countless people have left bloodied and bruised’ and that they should ‘be prepared for what can often turn into a very terrifying experience’. Some also warn that ‘the Mackenzie Poltergeist can cause genuine physical and mental distress’
THEORIES AND EXPLANATIONS
Reportedly some have attempted to explain the unusual experiences in and around Greyfriar’s Kirkyard by blaming ‘trying to connect the unlikely dots between the nearby Edinburgh University’s artificial intelligence unit which uses high-voltage machinery’. Others however, have theorised that the sandstone ‘deep underground’ beneath the cemetery’, being a porous stone, ‘absorbs the energy and releases it later causing odd experiences’.
- Lore Episode 19 – Bite Marks