The Scottish Reformation did little for Scotland's churches. Many of the best were utterly destroyed in the wave of fundamentalist Presbyterian Protestantism that swept across the nation in the years around 1560. Many of those that survived were damaged or defaced, and even those that continued in use were often later replaced by the joyless "preaching boxes" demanded by the new form of religion. What was bad for Scotland's churches was, paradoxically, often very good for its graveyards. The same forces that stripped churches of their statues and decorations, or their very being, led to the development of highly distinctive forms of graveyard architecture. Symbols considered "Papist" (particularly the cross) stopped being used, and instead a fascinating new language grew up, focusing especially on symbols of mortality such as skulls and bones, hourglasses, angels: and the ubiquitous slogan "memento mori", reminding anyone reading it that they, too, must eventually die.
This is true of many old Scottish graveyards. In "Greyfriars Graveyard" by Charlotte Golledge, the author brings magically to life one of the nation's most fascinating and most readily accessible graveyards. Greyfriars Graveyard lies in the heart of Edinburgh, only a few minutes' walk from the Royal Mile. Yet it is also under appreciated. To the extent that visitors have heard of it, it is usually in the context of "Greyfriars Bobby", a dog famed for taking loyalty to its master to new heights by mounting a vigil on his grave. Charlotte Golledge does tell the story - her book would have been incomplete without it - but we're pleased that she relegates it to near the back, and is at pains to try to separate fact from legend.
The book begins with a look at the history of the graveyard, before moving on to look at the types of monuments that appear here; at the symbology found on the monuments; at bodysnatching and the relics the practice has left; at monuments of note; at burial traditions and practices; and, as we've said, at Greyfriars Bobby. The result is a book that is fascinating to read, but also one that will have an enduring value as a work of reference. It is certainly a book that we will keep to hand for our next visit to Edinburgh and one that we would wholeheartedly recommend.