11 December 2009

Greyfriars Kirkyard Edinburgh

Greyfriars Kirkyard Edinburgh The Kirk has a significant place in Scottish history, in 1638 the National Covenant; a document of great importance in Scottish history was presented and signed in front of the pulpit. In 1679 1200 Covenanters were imprisoned in Greyfriars Kirkyard pending trial. In the 19th Century the minister led a movement to reform worship, introducing the first post-Reformation stained glass windows and one of the first organs in a Presbyterian Church in Scotland. In the Kirkyard lie the remains of many distinguished Scots. The collection of 17th century monuments is the finest in Scotland and one of the best in Britain. The Cemetery is situated in the middle of the old town and is a very popular tourist destination. It is best known for the story of Greyfriars Bobby, the dog who mourned his master (John Gray, 1858) and was immortalised by a Disney film. The table stones beside the monument are said to have afforded Bobby shelter from harsh weather during the faithful dog's 14 year vigil. The cemetery’s other claim to fame is that it is reputed to be one of the most haunted areas of Edinburgh. The ‘Resurrection Men’ such as the infamous Burke and Hare would sneak into Greyfriars at night and dig up recently buried corpses to sell to the medical students at the local university. At the time many cemeteries had towers built so that guards could keep watch over the graves. The guards however could be bribed. It was not unusual to see families gathered around the grave of a recently deceased relative day and night until the body of their loved one had decomposed enough to be useless to the anatomists and of no further use to their suppliers. In the cemetery you can still see today the 'mort safes' which were the cage-like devices intended to protect new corpses. The Burke and Hare story and mort safes have always held a great fascination for me. One of its oldest monuments is that of James Harlay, erected in 1619. Harlay was a lawyer, Writer to the Signet, and Keeper of His Majesty's Privy Seal.


  1. The use of skeletons and skulls is always fascinating to me. In California I never see a skeleton and the only time I see a skull it's being held by St. Catherine of Siene...I have never seen a Mort Safe either...I am still finding interesting monuments which keep my interest though...

  2. Skeletons and skull monuments were popular in the late 1700s/early 1800s, few have survived but Scotland seems to have quite a lot, also mort safes which again I love.


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