Of grave concern – 10 Scottish final resting places of note

The grave of James Clerk Maxwell <em>Picture: Dr Neil Clifton</em>
The grave of James Clerk Maxwell Picture: Dr Neil Clifton
By Elizabeth McQuillan

Scotland has spawned plenty of notable characters over the centuries, and many have in due course enriched Scottish soil with their flesh, bones and history. Here is a quick tour around some Scottish interments that are worth a visit.

1 – St Andrew, at the Cathedral Museum, St Andrews
The patron saint of Scotland has had his body parts moved about quite a bit since his demise. Following crucifixion by the Romans, Andrew was buried in Patras, Greece, where he lay undisturbed for a good 300 years.

Rudely exhumed from his saintly slumber, he was then carted to Constantinople, before having the humiliation of being stolen in 1210 and taken to Amalfi in Italy to RIP. Or not.

The Archbishop of Amalfi decided that the deceased saint could cope without a full set of bones, and sent a bit of shoulder blade to Scotland in 1879 – which was followed by a bag of bones gifted by Pope Paul VI in 1969.

2 – Deacon Brodie, at Buccleuch Church
Respected cabinet maker, deacon of the Incorporation of Wrights and Masons and member of Edinburgh town council, Deacon William Brodie was quite the society lad. However, as with many prominent figures today, his outward persona was somewhat misleading and he had a more dodgy side.

After dark, Brodie headed a gang of successful burglars to finance his expensive lifestyle. Whoring and gambling didn’t come cheap. His knowledge of locksmithery placed him perfectly, as he made copies of customers’ door keys to break in at a later date.

Brodie was hanged from a gibbet made by himself at the Edinburgh Tolbooth in 1788 – and died, despite wearing a metal collar to protect his neck from the noose and arranging fast removal for resuscitation.

3 – Greyfriars Bobby, at Greyfriars Church, Edinburgh
This Skye terrier was adopted by local nightwatchman John Gray. The pair patrolled the cobbled streets of Edinburgh together and were a familiar sight to the locals.

After contracting tuberculosis, Gray died in 1858. The wee dog stayed by the grave of his master every day, in all weathers, for 14 years until his own death. The one o’clock gun would signal his only absence from the grave, when he would follow the local cabinetmaker to the local eatery, the same one he had gone to every day with his master. When he turned up, they fed the faithful pooch.

In 1867, when a by-law required all dogs to be licensed, the Lord Provost paid the fee and presented him with a collar with a brass inscription that read: “Greyfriars Bobby, from the Lord Provost 1867, licensed”.

In service to his master until his last breath, his gravestone reads “Greyfriars Bobby – died 14th January 1872 – aged 16 years – Let his loyalty and devotion be a lesson to us all.”

4 – John Napier, at St Cuthbert’s Church, Edinburgh
This chap doesn’t have a university named after him without reason. A Scottish brainbox and nobleman, Napier spent pretty much his entire time working on his theories. He analysed everything, worked out how to get crops to grow better, came up with inventions and produced some pretty mind-bogglingly complex mathematical formulae, along with the calculating machine known as Napier’s Bones.

So clever was the man that his neighbours were sure he was in league with the devil himself. His published work on logarithms, Mirifici Logarithmorum Canonis Descriptio, 1614, might seem a dull read for most, but it facilitated advances in astronomy, dynamics and physics.

Napier’s actual bones ended up in Edinburgh.

5 – Robert the Bruce, at Melrose Abbey and Dunfermline Abbey
Another person with their bones in different places. Famous for his chat with a spider and his guerrilla war against the English forces under Edward I, the Bruce is a Scottish hero. In 1314, at the Battle of Bannockburn, vastly outnumbered, he defeated the English.

Crippled with leprosy, he died in 1329 and his body – or most of it – was entombed at Dunfermline Abbey. In the meantime (as per his death-bed request), his embalmed heart went off to the crusades with Sir James Douglas – the Black Douglas – and eventually found its way to rest at Melrose Abbey.

6 – Gerry Rafferty, at St Mirin’s Cathedral, Paisley
The singer and songwriter died at the start of 2011, aged 63. While a legend in folk and soft-rock circles, Rafferty shunned the celebrity attached to the music industry and would not engage in the hard sell. Best known for the song Baker Street, the publicity-shy millionaire was a bit of a recluse.

He came from coal-mining stock in Paisley, and worked in a butcher’s shop and a shoe shop before finding fame as a singer. Known to have battled alcoholism, his premature death was a direct result of the booze. He came back to his home town in Scotland to enjoy his peaceful, permanent rest.

7 – William Wallace, at St Machar’s Cathedral, Aberdeen
While not quite the romantic hero depicted in the film Braveheart, Wallace was certainly pivotal in Scottish history. Again, he isn’t buried entirely as a whole. Caught and hanged in London by his English enemy, he didn’t make it home quite in one piece.

St Machar’s has the right side of his body in the absence of a head, arm or leg – which does prompt the question, how the heck do they know it’s him? Someone at the time must have recognised a birthmark or something else of note – “Aye, I’d mind that anywhere”.

Wallace did a lot of fighting against the English and their puppets of the time with some success, and is best known for his triumph at Stirling Bridge.

8 – James Clerk Maxwell, at Parton churchyard, Dumfries and Galloway
Another Scottish clever-clogs. A mathematical physicist, Maxwell is best remembered as the creator of the electromagnetic theory of light waves. He formulated a set of equations, expressing the basic laws of electricity and magnetism now called Maxwell’s Equations in his honour.

He is also credited with developing the first permanent colour photograph in 1861. He demonstrated that electric and magnetic fields travel through the space in the form of waves. Impressed? You should be. His funeral was at the centre of academia, Trinity College in Cambridge, but he came back home to rest.

9 – Sir Walter Scott, Dryburgh Abbey
A man of poetry, literature and ballads, as well as a novelist, Scott was very famous in his own time. He was quite possibly the founding father of the “historical novel” genre, with his larger-than-life stories of romance and gallantry set in times gone by.

Scott published his Waverley novels anonymously to great critical acclaim both in the Britain and America, and also published works in poetry and Scottish ballads. When he found himself close to bankruptcy (then, as now, writers weren’t the richest), rather than sell his home he put it into a trust and proceeded to write his way out of debt. Clever chap.

With a muckle great monument in Edinburgh, and the city’s main railway station named after him, he certainly was respected by his peers and countrymen.

10 – Macbeth, St Oran’s Chapel, Iona
“If chance will have me king, why, chance may crown me” (Macbeth, Act I, Scene III). Everyone knows the character Macbeth, and the dark doings afoot in Scotland, through the works of William Shakespeare. The play, however, wasn’t really very close to historical fact.

Macbeth was the son of Findlaech, Earl of Moray, and Doneda, daughter of Malcolm II. He acceded after defeating and killing Duncan I in battle in 1040. His 17-year reign was pretty peaceful and reasonably prosperous – he even managed to pop over to Rome for a pilgrimage, which was tough in the days before EasyJet.

He was slain in battle by a very unhappy son of Duncan on the anniversary of his father’s death.

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