The eerie beauty of Edinburgh’s ancient Greyfriars Kirkyard

Greyfriars' Churchyard including the Chalmers and Jackson Monuments, 1843  1847, by Hill and Adamson. PIC: Scottish National Portrait Gallery.
Greyfriars' Churchyard including the Chalmers and Jackson Monuments, 1843  1847, by Hill and Adamson. PIC: Scottish National Portrait Gallery.
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The graves and tombs of this ancient Edinburgh graveyard have stirred fascination - and sometimes fear- for generations.

The eerie beauty of Greyfriars Kirkyard was captured several times by Edinburgh’s pioneering photographers David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson.

Greyfriars  Churchyard with Heriot's Hospital in the background and David Octavius Hill seated on the monument, 1843  1847. PIC: Scottish National Portrait Gallery.

Greyfriars Churchyard with Heriot's Hospital in the background and David Octavius Hill seated on the monument, 1843  1847. PIC: Scottish National Portrait Gallery.

While capturing the grand stillness of the graveyard, they also recorded it as a place of the living, where friends and loved ones of the dead would visit and pose for photographs.

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Hill and Adamson’s images of Greyfriars Kirkyard are among those on show at an exhibition of their work, A Perfect Chemistry, at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.

One of the images shows the pair at the Mackenzie Tomb, the burial place of George Mackenzie, the Lord Advocate who led the persecution of the Covenanters on behalf of Charles II and was reportedly responsible for 18,000 deaths.

Hill and Adamson at the Mackenzie Tomb. PIC: Scottish National Portrait Gallery.

Hill and Adamson at the Mackenzie Tomb. PIC: Scottish National Portrait Gallery.

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In the photograph, Hill and Adamson appear to be attempting to enter the tomb which has become synonymous with the poltergeist said to inhabit the graveyard.

The tomb sits in the Covenanters Prison, with the bodies of legions of men killed on the nod of Mackenzie, later known as Bluidy Mackenzie, who died in 1691, lying close-by.

Bluidy Mackenzie’s tomb has long been a source of intrigue, as demonstrated by Hill and Adamson in their photograph.

Children used to knock on the tomb door and shout ‘Bluidy Mackenzie come out if you dare’, before running away as quickly as possible.

Claims of strange happenings at the site have made the Mackenzie poltergeist the most recorded in the world.

Author Jan Andrew Henderson, who set up the City of the Dead walking tours, has written several books about Mackenzie and the poltergeist named after him.

He has collected more than 200 pages of reports on people who claim to have experienced a supernatural near the Mackenzie tomb and the Black Mausoleum where the poltergeist is said to regularly inhabit.

Numerous reports have been taken of people being bruised and scratched after entering the area.

“We stopped counting when we had 200 reports of people collapsing in the graveyard,” Henderson said.

He added: “I’m a very practical person so I would hesitate to say whether there is a thing called the supernatural.

“People of course say it could be psychosomatic, that people are imagining things. But that is a lot of people imagining things.”

Mr Henderson said his flat in Candlemaker Row - which overlooked the graveyard - burnt down in mysterious circumstances after he finished his book on Mackenzie.

The insurance people could not find any reason for the fire starting, he added.

In 1999, a homeless man broke into this mausoleum, disturbing Mackenzie’s remains as he sought a bed for the night.

The floor gave way, with the man falling into a pit of plague bodies below.

It is claimed Mackenzie’s dark soul has not rested ever since.

A Perfect Chemistry is on show at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery until October 1.