Few places in the world can claim to have as many restless spirits as haunted Saint Andrews Cathedral. From Medieval times, Scotland has celebrated the Feast Day of its Patron Saint, Saint Andrew, on the 30th November. According to legend, some of Saint Andrew’s bones were carried across the ocean by a Greek monk named Regulus or Rule. The little chapel built upon the cliff tops of Fife, to house the saint’s relics, was later replaced by a grand cathedral.
Until the Reformation, Saint Andrews Cathedral was the ecclesiastical capital of Scotland. The town which grew up around the Cathedral became home to Scotland’s oldest university and the third oldest English-speaking university in the world. The town of Saint Andrews is also known worldwide as the home of golf. But what of this Cathedral? In 1559 a mob, led by John Knox, ransacked and destroyed the interior of the building. In the years that followed, the building rapidly fell into decline. After the living vacated the premises, it seems that Scotland’s former spiritual capital became a gathering place for restless spirits. At haunted Saint Andrews Cathedral, you can meet all kinds of spirits from friendly friars to apparitions with attitude.
Haunted Saint Andrews Cathedral and the Ghost of Robert de Montrose
Adjacent to Saint Andrews Cathedral, lies the remains of Saint Andrews Priory. In 1393, the Prior was a kindly man named Robert de Montrose. Although he had a reputation of being a fair and responsible man with a generous heart, there were times he needed to discipline some of the monks under his care. One of these was a certain Thomas Plater or Platter. He resented being reprimanded and began to plot his revenge. So it was, that late one night he crept upon his superior as he was retiring to his bed and stabbed him to death.
According to other stories, the Prior was in the habit of climbing to the top of St Rule’s Tower to stare into the night skies. Knowing this, his would-be assassin silently followed him up the spiral stairway. On reaching the top he murdered him and threw him over the parapet.
Fast forward a few hundred years! During the 1940s or 50s, a visitor to Rule’s Tower stumbled in the semi-darkness of the poorly lit, narrow stairway. A man wearing a cassock, came to his aid, offering his arm. The man promptly but politely declined the offer from the ‘ kindly monk’. Afterwards, the cleric brushed past him in the narrow confines of the spiral staircase. Imagine the man’s horror when he could feel nothing as the helpful monk squeezed past him.
Since then, there have been many sightings of the prior falling over the parapet of the tower. But the ghost of Robert De Montrose is not the only ghost to walk the ruins of haunted St Andrews Cathedral and some are not so benevolent.
Haunted Saint Andrews Cathedral and the Nun’s Walk
Next to the Cathedral is a street called the Pends. Arches stretch across the road giving it a very spooky feel. This used to be the vaulted entrance to the monastery and was a checkpoint for pilgrims visiting the Cathedral. It was here that many plague victims, visiting the Cathedral in hope of a miracle cure were turned away, by the fearful clerics and left to die in the nearby town. This street is also known as the Nun’s Walk. Some who have visited the street say that they have had an eerie feeling of being watched while others report that their dogs cower from an invisible energy on the path. Some are not so lucky!
These poor unfortunates claim to see a woman wearing a black veil and carrying a lamp. According to local tales, in life, the woman was of such beauty and intelligence that she set many hearts alight and had a string of suitors. But her heart burned for one alone! Alas, before she could reach the altar, the man in question, either died or jilted her. In utter despair, she took extreme measures to ensure that no man would ever be attracted to her again. She took a knife and sheared off her ears, eyelids, nose and lips. Then taking a hot branding iron, seared her cheeks.
She sought refuge in a nunnery, where she planned to take the veil and live out the rest of her days as a nun. However, her wounds were too severe and she died soon after.
If you encounter her, she will pull back her veil and use the lamp to reveal her hideously mutilated face!
The White Lady of Haunted St Andrews Cathedral
Perhaps the most active ghost of haunted Saint Andrews Cathedral is the White Lady. In the graveyard around what is known as ‘ the haunted tower’ and the nearby parapet walk, the apparition of a ‘white lady’ has been seen by several reliable witnesses. On one occasion she passed through an iron gate, scaring the living daylights out of a group of passing fishermen on their way back from the harbour.
The sightings date back to the 1800s and are remarkably similar. Those seeing her report that she is a beautiful, slim woman with long, black hair who wears a long white dress and white gloves. Some claim she is wearing a veil and possibly reading a book. All say that she is very luminous.
The Haunted Tower
But what of this ‘haunted tower’? The cathedral grounds are surrounded by a high stone wall. Interspersed at intervals along the enclosure is a series of 2-storey watchtowers. Prior to the Reformation, these towers were joined by a parapet walkway. After the Reformation, it is likely that the local Clephane family used one of these towers as a mausoleum. Many of the family members died of the plague and the tower was sealed up and forgotten about. This tower is easily recognisable for it is the only square tower. The others are round. Today it is commonly known as the ‘haunted tower’ for it is the lair of the ghostly ‘White Lady’.
However, one author has a different theory to the identity of the bodies once housed within the tower. Local man, Richard Falconer, suggests that the bodies hidden in the haunted tower, pre-date the Reformation and are the mummified bodies of local saints. After all, the Cathedral was built on the site of a Culdee settlement. The Culdees were the monks associated with the ancient Celtic Church. During the Reformation, it was common practice for monks and priests to bury and hide relics and other precious icons associated with their faith. The newly formed Presbyterian church considered the worship of such objects as idolatrous and would have destroyed them.
Chamber of Corpses
The haunted tower is also known as ‘The Chamber of the Corpses’. But why this strange name? It seems that in 1868, a group of stonemasons were working on the wall when they discovered some cracks in what appeared to be a sealed crypt. Peering inside, they could see a series of mummified bodies. Their hair-raising accounts were enough to whet the appetites of the locals who shared the fashionable, voracious Victorian love of Gothic horror. Led by a university lecturer, the crypt was opened and a number of bodies were found in a remarkably good state of preservation. Among them was the body of a young, dark-haired woman wearing a white dress and white leather gloves.
It seems that she did not take kindly to the intrusion. According to local legend, if you put your hand through a gun loop in the bottom chamber of the ‘Haunted Tower’ you can shake hands with the White Lady. Do not expect this to be a friendly greeting, however. Some claim that something brushes past them, others that a force is pulling them into the hole, while others have tried to take photos through the hole only for their cameras to stop working!
Beyond the Cathedral Precinct
Of course, the Cathedral is not the only place said to be haunted. St Andrews Castle is one of many places to be haunted by Cardinal David Beaton. It was here that he was brutally murdered. This was a revenge killing for Beaton’s part in the execution of George Wishart during the Protestant Reformation.
Just 18 years prior to this Patrick Hamilton met a similar fate at the hands of Beaton’s uncle. The spot outside St Salvador’s College where he died is said to be cursed. Saint Andrew’s passing students tread carefully in this area, for it is said that those who walk over the cobbles will fail their exams.
Have you visited Saint Andrews?
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