Greyfriars Kirkyard surrounding Greyfriars Kirk in Edinburgh, Scotland is located at the southern edge of the Old Town. It has hosted the bodies of the dead since 1562. It contains a variety of vaults, sepulchres, tombs and mausoleums. The location of many graves is unknown, and bones are regularly washed to the surface during heavy rainstorms. The hundreds of persecuted and martyred Covenanters buried here have given rise to stories of hauntings.
Hugo Arnot, Edinburgh historian, describing Greyfriars Kirkyard in 1779:
“The graves are so crowded on each other that the sextons frequently cannot avoid in opening a ripe grave encroaching on one not fit to be touched. The whole presents a scene equally nauseous and unwholesome. How soon this spot will be so surchrged with animal juices and oils, that, becoming one mass of coruption, its noxious steams will burst forth with the prey of a pestilence, we shall not pretend to determine; but we will venture to say, the effects of this burying-ground would ere now have been severly felt, were it not that, besides the coldness of the climate, they have been checked by the acidity of the coal smoke and the height of the winds, which in the neighbourhood of Edinburgh blow with extraordinary violence.”
The small 17th century Greyfriars Kirk is still a working parish. A museum and gift shop are also located on the site.
One of the most infamous deceased is Sir George Mackenzie, a Scottish lawyer, Lord Advocate, essayist and legal writer. His professional life was a contradiction with the refusal to endorse the popular belief of actual witchcraft, and his relentless persecution of the Presbyterian Covenanters who were against King Charles I’s desire to convert them to the use of High Anglican practices (Episcopal Church Government). For his inhumane maltreatment of the Covenanters, he was nicknamed Bluidy George Mackenzie.
In 1679, 1200 prisoners were imprisoned in a walled section of Greyfriar’s burying ground now known as the Covenanters’ prison. They suffered inhumane conditions with a large percentage of prisoners dying within a few months. The remainder were executed when they did not swear allegiance to the King.
When Bloody George Mackenzie died at Westminster England on 8 May 1691, his body was removed to Edinburgh and buried in Greyfriars Kirkyard close to the Covenanters’ Prison. Erected over his grave was a rounded mausoleum.
A legend tells of a highwayman fleeing from justice who sought refuge in the tomb. When he was captured 6 months later he related stories of coffins moving within the mausoleum and Bloody George scratching from within his coffin.
In 1999, a homeless man looking for shelter broke into the tomb of Sir George Mackenzie, desecrated the coffin, and discovered a hidden room filled with skeletons beneath the tomb. For more creepy detail on this event, visit The Mackenzie Poltergeist
Immediately, stories circulated about strange incidences within the churchyard; intense cold, loud breathing noises, mysterious cuts and bruises, visitors becoming unconsciousness, and unidentified laughter; all of which was attributed to the Mackenzie Poltergeist.
Two failed exorcisms have not prevented ‘Ghost Tours’, or schoolboys from regularly knocking on the Mausoleum to shout, “Bloody Mackenzie, come out if you dare!”