Sunday, October 27, 2013

Greyfriars Kirks Cemetery Mortsafe

Author: Dasia Butler

Towie Mortsafe from the University of Aberdeen
For many centuries’ people fear bodies being rented cause a conflict between the medical and general population. The problem was created when body snatchers began digging up new graves to sell to anatomy schools, or examine and dissected by medical students In 1832 a bill was passed stating , you must have a license from the Home Sectary to practice anatomy. Everyone couldn’t obtain a license so people took matters into their own hands and began body snatching. When it became a big problem there was many methods to prevent it from happening. One solution was compacting the soul and add several layers of branches on top, to make it hard for the robbers to get to the grave. A more effective invention was created to stop the robbers from snatching the bodies, it was called the mortsafe. This was an iron cage placed on top of the coffin in the grave. 

People believed the graves with large iron grates covering them were made to prevent dead bodies from coming back to life. Coming to realization that wasn’t possible people next fear was body snatching. Relatives became worried when they saw graves dug up because there love ones weren’t getting to rest in peace. 
image from
The monuments standing tall in the cemetery have engraved symbols of death and damnation. Greyfriars Kirk is known for having a lot of tours and being haunted.  There were beliefs of ghost phenomena going on around the cemetery. It was reported people would see ghost wondering around, weird smell, strange noises and hot and cold spot throughout the cemetery. Some people claim they are physically attacked by the ghost, and they leave bruises,  scratches and broken bones. This usually takes place by the Black Mausoleum.
The Black Mausoleum
image from Gertie

 In 1816 the first mortsafe was made, they come many different design but the weight of them are similar.  There wasn’t that many mortsafes because they are reusable and they would only stay on top of the coffin for 5 to 6 weeks. They were usually made to be heavy because grave robbers would go to the extreme to retrieve the bodies.  It was reported grave robbers would build tunnels underground leading up to the graves. 

In 1620 the Greyfriars Cemetery was built in Scotland inside a city called Edinburg.  It was named for Franciscan close by.  In 1696 over a 1,000 Convanters was imprisoned here.  In the 18th century it was caught on fire because of a gun powder. 
Greyfriars Kirk
Links for Research
Greyfriars, Kirk Edinburg
It gives small background information about the cemetery.
New Terminology: Mortsafe
Explains what a mortsafe is and describe the origin of it being invented
Introduction to grave robbing in Scotland
Introduces what grave robbing and reasoning on why people did it. 

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