Take an angry and violent poltergeist. Add grave robbers who are so frequent and successful that bars and locks had to be installed over the graves. Throw in a dog so loyal he became the subject of films and novels and top it off for the reputed real-life inspiration for Harry Potter’s ‘He who must not be named’ and you have Greyfriars Kirkyard considered by many to be world’s most haunted graveyard.
Located in Edinburgh Scotland at the south end of the city’s old town the Kirkyard lies next to Greyfriars Kirk (Kirk being the Gaelic word for church). Both were laid out in the late 1500’s on the site of an earlier Franciscan friary who as you can guess was known for wearing grey.
As far as the haunted history of the graveyard that really begins shortly after the church was built. In 1638 a group of Protestant Presbyterians called the Covenanters met at the church and set up a document calling for a break with Catholic Rome and an adherence to their strict religious dogma. Cutting to the chase it did not go too well. Almost 1200 of the covenanters were rounded up and set to a prison on the churchyard and grounds nearby. The conditions were so harsh that within four months only 257 prisoners were still alive. Most of those who died during their incarceration were buried on the churchyard in an area still called the covenanters prison. This section of the graveyard is often kept under lock and key even today.
The chief persecutor of the covenanters was a man named George Mackenzie. Mackenzie was known in life as a brutal and violent man with a quick and acrid temper. In death, he is reported to be Mackenzie’s poltergeist. A spirit that jealously guards the kirkyard especially at night.
According to the local legend, Mackenzie’s spirit was released in 1999 when a homeless man broke open his grave seeking shelter. But even before then the churchyard had a reputation for being haunted. The graveyard was a scene of frequent and persistent grave-robbing. The major reason for this was that the local university’s medical school paid a hefty price for cadavers and usually didn’t ask questions. It was pretty common to see graves with metal bars and locks over them.
The kirkyard is a popular location for tours particularly night tours. but according to local papers over 450 people have reported being pushed, bitten, or punched by something on these tours.
I didn’t take one of the tours. I went during the day. I didn’t tell the person I was going with that the graveyard was supposed to be haunted. She was really into the supernatural and I didn’t want to ‘set her up’. I wanted to see if she felt anything on her own. She wouldn’t go near Mackenzies Mausoleum or the covenanter’s prison area. I asked her why and she said she felt like something was watching her when she would approach. Mackenzie’s grave did creep me out but I can’t say why since I knew the story upfront and may have been psyche myself up.
Fans of J.K. Rowlings “Harry Potter” series have a connection with this area of Edinburgh. Rowling wrote a lot of her first book at a pub near Greyfriars and the school next to Greyfriars George Heriots is believed to be the inspiration for Hogwarts
Buried in Greyfriars is Thomas Riddell who many “Harry Potter” fans believe was Rowling’s inspiration for the birth name of Lord V. aka ‘he who must not be named”. Readers often come and leave notes and flowers at his grave.
Not all the stories from here are morbid ones. Lastly, we end our post with the tale of Greyfriars Bobby. Bobby was a Skye terrier who belonged to John Grey who was a nightwatchman. When Grey died in 1858, Bobby spent the nest 14 years coming to his grave every day and sitting beside it. The local pub next to the church took notice and would feed him. When Bobby died in 1872 he was buried in the churchyard near his master’s grave. (there wasn’t open space right beside his former owner.)
There has been talking that the bobby story is more myth than reality. But I prefer to be the optimist. Scary stories need a happy ending.