Cemeteries are not just for the dead, but also for the living. Perhaps it can be said that they are primarily for the living, as they are places of remembrance. It is through these paths of the cities of the dead that the living traverse and commune with both the great and the lowly of the past. Scotland’s graveyards hold the secrets and memories of many centuries past, and are sure to see many years to come. The following is a brief look at some of Scotland’s wonderful cemeteries.
Old Calton Cemetery: This cemetery is situated around a hill, which lends the cemetery its name, in Edinburgh. On one side of the hill these grounds were once the hanging grounds for criminals, who were then buried there long before it was a consecrated cemetery, and on the other side of the hill the grounds were traditionally used for fairs and jousting tournaments. In 1518 the Carmelite Friars took possession of the grounds and built a small monastery at the base of the hill from which the friars tended to a leper colony currently living on this said hill until in 1591 when the monastery itself was converted into a hospital for lepers. Finally, in 1718 the burial ground was officially granted and walled off as a cemetery. Well-known names buried in these walls include David Hume and William Blackwood. But these are not the only well-known names or images you will find here; this cemetery also includes a statue of Abraham Lincoln as part of a monument erected in remembrance of a small group of Scottish soldiers who fought for the Union in the American Civil War. This statue was erected in 1893 and is the first statue of a US President to stand in a country other than the United States. It is also the only monument to commemorate the American Civil War outside of the United States, and was paid for by America to mark the burials of these Scottish soldiers, only one of which, William Duff, is actually buried beneath it.
Edinburgh Castle Dog Cemetery: Edinburgh Castle contains a little gem in its small and unique cemetery only for dogs. It is believed that a tower once stood here, but now it is a small garden and resting place for man’s best friend. The cemetery was established in the 1840s for the burial of officers’ dogs and regimental mascots. Today it can be viewed by tourists from above, though no one is allowed to enter the tiny, circular graveyard.
Auld Aisle Cemetery: Also known today as Kirkintilloch Cemetery, this graveyard boasts features of many centuries in tribute to its passage through many periods. These include the remains of a watchtower gateway complete with a belfry dating back to the eighteenth century and stone gate piers from the nineteenth century. The oldest part of the cemetery rests on a hill from which part of Glasgow can be viewed. It was here that a church was built in the twelfth century. It stood there for nearly five centuries before being demolished in the seventeenth century, the new church being completed in the town in the year 1644. The cemetery remained and was expanded in 1863, then again in the twentieth century.
John Knox Churchyard: If ever there was a case of the dead and living dwelling side-by-side in our modern world perhaps it is here in the John Knox Church and Graveyard. The church itself no longer operates as a place of worship, but having been sold, the inside of the structure has been remodeled as apartments. The exterior of the old church remains the same. The small cemetery in the churchyard (there are only a few hundred burial plots) remains just as it was upon its establishment in the early nineteenth century. A particularly interesting site here is a gravestone made completely of wood from the 1860s.
St. Nicholas Churchyard: St. Nicholas Church has been dubbed with the nickname Mither Kirk (meaning Mother Church) due to its age. The church and graveyard date back to the medieval era, containing beautiful gravestones throughout its many centuries. As you walk up the main path, be careful to look down as you approach the church–you may not be stepping on a flagstone anymore, but rather a grave. Many of these flat gravestones have been unknowingly walked over and sat on so many times throughout their long history that the inscriptions are now unreadable. Among the graveyard’s famous inhabitants are opera singer, Mary Garden; and magician, John Henry Anderson, who is said to have been the first magician to pull a rabbit out of a hat.