greyfriars churh in the kirkyard


The space now occupied by the Old and New Greyfriars’ Churches, the graveyard and the Heriot grounds were all included in the Greyfriars’ Monastery and gardens. Founded by James I. who had a fondness for the English governance, a view not shared by the local God fearing community.

edinburgh castle greyfriars churchyard

Around 1429, for the encouragement of Englands Christian, Roman ethos, portrayed as learning and culture for the select few in Scotland, the Vicar-General of the Franciscan Order (or Greyfriars) at Cologne, in response to a request from the king, sent over a company of the brethren under the charge of Cornelius of Zurich, a scholar of great celebrity.  The buildings were exceedingly rich and full of splender.  Mary of Gueldres stayed here prior to her marriage to James II. Later Henry VI. of England, his queen and son sought refuge here, after the fatal field of Towton.

Greyfriars Kirk & Bobby

“The schools of the Greyfriars were in great repute; and tradition asserts that William Dunbar, the poet, was educated there under the great Latinist, John Leyrva, a Lombard.”

It’s a pity the greyfriars didn’t educate and lavish splender on the local community as nae afore lang, in 1558 the Edinburgh locals had had enough of the corruption, when the dawn of the Reformation gave them a chance to show their execration at the corrupt lives of the priests, expended their zeal in the destruction of the two monasteries of the Dominicans or Blackfriars, and the Greyfriars.

Lets be clear here, the locals were so incensed by the corruption of the priests they flattened the area, including most of the walls, in response the only action of remedy was the speedy “purchase” by the  local council to bury some of the rapidly decreasing population due to plague, the yard became known as “One Big Hole.”

So thorough was this purgation of the ” Mammon of Unrighteousness,” to quote John Knox’s words, that even the walls were in some places torn down. At all events the place was in such a ruinous state that in 1562 the Town Council besought Queen Mary to grant them the land as a site for a burial-ground, which in 1566 she actually did. During the visitation of the plague, two years later, the dead were interred in ** the Greyfriars’ Kirkzaird,” in “ane muckle pit.” Here also, in 1 581, the headless corpse of James Douglas, Earl of Morton, was interred by night in a place reserved for common criminals, and here a year later, Scotland’s greatest scholar, George Buchanan, the grave cannot now with certainty be identified.

In 1612 the first or “Old Greyfriars’ Church” was erected, and in 1721 the **New Greyfriars ” was added to it, owing to the fact that the older edifice was insufficient to contain the inhabitants of the parish. These two places of worship have continued to be occupied by their respective congregations until the present time. The building to-day presents the appearance of one long, barn-like structure, divided into two by a partition rendering them both of equal length. For a considerable time in the eighteenth century, when the mania for collegiate churches was at its height, four ministers were actually in charge of these two churches. The most famous pair of colleagues were the two O Gyfriars, viz., Dr. William Robertson, Principal of the University and the historian of Scotland, also the leader of the Moderate party in Slan ; associated withldre the General Assembly of the Church and Dr. John Erskine, who was the leader of the opposing or Evangelical party.

greyfriars churh in the kirkyard
Despite differences in views the two colleagues were warm friends. The clergymen who at the same period shared the pulpit of New Greyfriais were the Rev. Dr. Henry, author of Xht History of Great Britain^ and Rev. Dr. Mack night, author of the Harmony of the Four Gospels, Regarding the latter an amusing anecdote is told. When his volume on the above-named subject was being published, in which he showed the substantial agreement between the Evangelists despite minor differences, he was absent from his pulpit for some Sabbaths. One of his church members having asked a leading elder of the congregation why the minister was so long away, received the reply ” ** Hoots, he’s awa trjring to reconcile four men that never cast out” (quarrelled). The father of Sir f many years a member and later an elder in Old Grey friars, and the graveyard may well be called the Westminster Abbey of Edinburgh from the number and the high reputation of those who rest therein. To detail them all would be impossible; suffice to say that in the words of Grant, there are thirty-seven chief magistrates of the city; twenty-three principals, many of them of European celebrity; thirty three of the most distinguished lawyers of their day, one a Vice-Chancellor of England and Master of the Rolls; six Lords President of the Supreme Court of Scotland, twenty-two Lords of Session, and a host of others. Here lie George Heriot, father of the founder of the Hospital; George Jamesone, the Scottish Vandyke; Alexander Henderson, the great Covenanting divine and delegate from Scotland to the Westminster Assembly; William Carstares, the ecclesiastical statesman of the Revolution; Sir George Mackenzie of Rosehaugh, the Lord Advocate of Charles II.; Allan Ramsay, author of the Gentle Shepherd; Lords President Walter Scott wasor

Duncan Forbes of Culloden, and Robert Blair of Avonton ; Dr. Hugh Blair, the eloquent preacher; Henry Mackenzie, author of The Man of Feeling ” but why prolong the list ?

In the southern annexe of Greyfriars’ Churchyard, as we have already stated, were confined the unfortunate Covenanting prisoners whom the gaols, already filled to overflowing with the adherents of this cause, could not hold; and large numbers of them died under the rigours of the winter. Here too the Covenant was signed in 1638 on the **throuchstone ” or horizontal gravestone on the south side of the church.

By far the most interesting memorial in the churchyard which will be found on the angle of the churchyard near the steps leading to the northern entrance. The present monument was erected in 1771, replacing the original slab which is now in the Municipal Museum at the Council Chambers. is the one called the Martyrs^ Monumenty with its “pathetic inscription…”

“Halt, passenger ! tak heed what ye do see, This Tomb doth show for what some men did die, Here lies interred the dust of those who stood ‘Gainst perjury, resisting unto blood; Adhering to the Covenants and laws Establishing the same; which was the cause Their lives were sacrificed unto the lust Of prelatists abjured; though here their dust Lies mixt with murderers and other crew, Whom justice justly did to death pursue; But as for them, no cause was to be found Worthy of death; but only they were found Constant and steadfast, zealous, witnessing For the prerogatives of Christ their King: Which truths were sealed by famous Guthrie’s head And all along to Mr Renwick’s blood. They did endure the wrath of enemies’ Reproaches, torments, death and injuries.  But yet they’re those who from such troubles came And now triumph in glory with the Lamb.”


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: