Cluny cemetery with mortsafes and magnificent mausoleum

Cluny Cemetery near Monymusk in Aberdeenshire.


Image are mainly from the old cemetery at Cluny.


This graveyard is dominated by the Fraser Mausoleum, a circular neo-classical building of ashlar grey granite (ashlar being well-dressed stone). This impressive structure was designed by James Byers of Tonley.

James Byers was an 18th century Scottish artist and architect from Tonley, Tough, Aberdeenshire. He was a man of considerable learning and a dealer in antiques and paintings – among his clients was the English artist Constable. The Byers were Jacobites (his father had fled after Culloden) and like Bonnie Prince Charlie James spent a considerable part of his life in Rome where he was a great authority on all things cultural and he became what might be described as a cultural guide for those undertaking the Grand Tour.

Incidentally Byers was responsible for the famous Portland Vase coming to this country. He took possession of it after its owner, one of the Barberinis, found himself in debt over a game of cards. Byers sold the vase to the Scottish diplomat and archaeologist Sir William Hamilton. Eventually the vase found its way to Britain.

Before I get carried away with Byers let me return to Cluny.


A friend of Eliza Fraser, Byers presumably oversaw the work done on the mausoleum ensuring its quality – perhaps the work of mason William Cottie whose signature is on the building – finely proportioned, this drum rises from a square podium and finishes with a dome complete with oculus.

The Fraser coat of arms sits over the doorway and around the top of the drum runs a frieze – Elizabeth Fraser of Castle Fraser MDCCC VIII.


Protecting the glazed door is a wrought iron grille.


This is the view inside through a rather dirty window.

Alongside lies a simpler Fraser burial enclosure.


As striking as the mausoleum in a very different way is a terracotta monument to Leochel Cushnie teacher James Reid and his French wife Marie Claudine Nardin. They married for the second time, once in England, at 24 Dee Street Aberdeen on 14 Jan 1859.  Marie Claudine became a sewing teacher.  She died on 7 Jan 1897.


Dating from around 1897 it is in early Italian Renaisssance style with a medallion head, presumably of Marie Nardin.


The grave is protected by angels on both sides of the monument.


The angel holding a torch representing immortality of the spirit and the resurrection.

??????????????And on the opposite side is the fallen angel.


The graveyard boasts four splendid mort-safes. If you weren’t a Fraser who could afford a grand mausoleum to protect your recently deceased then you might have use of a mort-safe.

Before bodies were legally made available to anatomists, Scottish doctors learnt their trade with the help of resurrectionists, grave robbers, who dug up recently buried corpses and sold them for dissection.

These were commonly used in the 19th century to prevent bodies awaiting burial being stolen. A corpse might lie within the protection of a mort-safe for six weeks until decay made the body unsuitable for dissection.

Churches might own one or two and could hire them to other churches. Some groups purchased mort-safes and charged fees for people who made use of the safes.

Cluny’s mort-safes are made up of wrought iron riveted cages but as well as the iron each has a top of a coffin shaped granite slab 2.15m long by 0.76m wide and 0.15m thick.


Several granite stones dating from late 18thC are contained within the old graveyard. There are numerous references to family members who lived and died abroad, signifying the extent of Scottish migration over the centuries.



Traditional cemetery imagery nicely carved into the unrelenting hardness of granite.

??????????????One of the ground level horizontal slabs with the skull and crossbones representing death.


Unusual scroll design on this stone.

??????????????Gravestone of a policeman.


Gravestone with an image of a piper either applied by sandblasting or laser.


Gravestone of a blacksmith with a carved anvil.


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And a stone commemorating a farmer and his wife.

The original Cluny kirk belonged to the cathedral of Aberdeen and was known as St Machar’s Church. It fell to ruin and was demolished in 1789.

Almost forgot – if you look around the more recent cemetery at Cluny you will be staggered by the number of accident victims buried there.  It’s an interesting detail recorded on the stones but why have people stopped putting deceased’s occupations on gravestones? These make fascinating reading on old stones and add to our understanding of generations and the times they lived in.

3 Comments to “Cluny cemetery with mortsafes and magnificent mausoleum”

  1. That is a fantastic mausoleum!!! And a lovely cemetery.
    Great post!

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