The old kirkyard of Cluny lies to the west of Cluny Castle, one of Aberdeenshire's many grand castles still serving their originally intended purpose as a private residence. But while Cluny Castle may not be open to the public, the old kirkyard can be visited, and is fascinating. Access is a little circuitous and you approach Cluny Parish Church, built in 1789, from the south. The old kirkyard is on the opposite side of the approach road to the church, and to the north east of it.
The kirkyard is dominated by a grey pepper-pot shaped structure, the Fraser Mausoleum, built in 1808 and dedicated to Elyza Fraser of Castle Fraser. The design of the mausoleum is influenced by Roman classicism and was designed and paid for by the antiquary James Byres, a close friend of Elyza Fraser. Around the upper part of the mausoleum is inscribed "ELYZA FRASER OF CASTLE FRASER MDCCCVIII". It is topped off with a dome and an oculus.
On the ground near the mausoleum are laid out four mortsafes, each comprising a heavy stone top above an ironwork lattice. These date back to the early years of the 1800s when graverobbing was a frequent occurrence across Scotland. Bodysnatchers or "resurrectionists" would steal fresh corpses from graveyards to sell to anatomists and doctors who needed to study bodies. A mortsafe would be placed above a fresh grave and was designed to make stealing the corpse below so difficult that the bodysnatchers would move on. After the body had been in the ground for a while, the mortsafe would be removed for reuse. A change in the law in 1832 freed up a legal supply of corpses for research and study, and mortsafes were no longer needed.
The gravestones in Cluny old kirkyard range from the modest, almost anonymous, initialled stones to the highly elaborate and very unusual Reid Monument. Brick-built and faced with painted terracotta, this commemorates James Reid, his wife Marie Claudine Nardin, and their son William.
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Grid Ref: NJ 6845 126