The Howff Cemetery – Dundee, Scotland - Atlas Obscura

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The Howff Cemetery

People leave coins atop an unusual grave marker in one of Scotland's oldest burial grounds. 


When Mary, Queen of Scots was visiting Dundee in the 16th century, she was so taken aback by the dilapidated state of the local cemeteries, she established an area outside the city’s walls to inter the deceased. In 1564, the Howff was chosen for the location of the new graveyard.

For as long as anyone can recall, the Howff was the site of an open meeting space where the local guilds would gather once a year to conduct business. These included masons, tailors, bakers, and other such tradesmen who would meet to discuss various aspects of commerce. The word howff is a Scottish word meaning an enclosed space or shelter.

Today there are an estimated 80,000 or more people buried in Howff Cemetery, and some 1,000 tombstones, many of which are carved with the emblems of these various trades. Other gravestones are adorned with excellent examples of Memento Mori, such as skulls, bones, and other signs of death.

There is also one mysterious grave maker that stands out from the others in the cemetery. The stone is about two feet tall, very narrow, and easily missed among the multitude of larger headstones. On top of this grave marker, you’ll often find a pile of coins, though it’s not certain why.

One theory is that leaving a small token here is good luck and will bring wealth and prosperity. Another belief is that individuals place coins here to pay homage to Grissel Jaffray, the last accused witch to be burnt in Dundee. It could be a way of warding off evil or to help alleviate an unjust act. Some say the stone marks where she is laid to rest, though it’s very unlikely that an accused witch would be buried in consecrated ground.

Know Before You Go

The marker with the coins is located in the northwest quadrant of the cemetery. If you follow the cobblestone path, heading right from the main entrance on Meadowside, you will come to a large circle of cobblestones underneath a tree. Look for the gravestone that has three large columns, and the marker should be nestled to the left. The cemetery is open throughout the day. Be aware of your surroundings and use common sense as there are some uneven surfaces. Daytime hours are advised for a visit, or consider booking a tour.

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August 9, 2019

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