The City of Edinburgh has a whole lot of haunted history for tourists to explore: ghost walks, creepy castles, sites of witch burnings. But it also has one of the most haunted graveyards in the world — Greyfriars Kirkyard.
Most of the hauntings are linked to the ghost of George Mackenzie — a merciless judge who presided over the trials of the Presbyterian Covenanters in the 1670s. The Covenanters had petitioned the King to allow freedom to practice their religion without interference. To crush this rebellion against the Crown, “Bloody Mackenzie” was brutal in his out punishments, and imprisoned 1,200 Covenanters in a field next to Greyfriars Kirkyard.
The prisoners spent over four months outside in the graveyard, awaiting trial. They had no shelter, and were given a daily food allowance of just 4oz of bread. Conditions were so inhumane that the Covenanters’ Prison is often described as the world’s first concentration camp. In the end, many prisoners were executed and hundreds died of maltreatment.
In a twist of fate, George Mackenzie was buried in the Black Mausoleum (above) in Greyfriars, just around the corner from Covenanters’ Prison. Today, Bloody Mackenzie may be dead and gone, but his spirit is said to live on — and physically attack people.
The attacks started in1999, after a homeless man broke into the Mackenzie’s vault — and allegedly unleashed an evil force. When the man tried to break into the casket too, he stepped backwards and fell into an old pit containing the rotting remains of Plague victims from centuries earlier. He ran screaming from the Black Mausoleum.
Since then, Greyfriars Churchyard has been the centre of strange events linked to the Mackenzie Poltergeist. Visitors have left the cemetery with bruises, scratches, bite marks, and burns. Some have passed out or gotten sick. Most attacks have occurred near the Black Mausoleum and the Covenanters’ Prison. There have even been two failed attempts at exorcism in Greyfriars. Strangely, one of the exorcists died a week later from a heart attack.
The attacks escalated to the point whereby the City of Edinburgh closed off the Covenanters’ Prison from the public. Now, the City only allows controlled visits to that section as part of the City of the Dead ghost walk. 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…very strange.
Want to take the tour? Beware: the company warns that “The Mackenzie Poltergeist can cause genuine physical and mental distress. Join the tour at your own risk.”