//The White Lady of St Andrews

The White Lady of St Andrews

St Andrews in Fife, Scotland, is known worldwide as the Home of Golf. The town is also famous for its university, the third oldest university in the English speaking world and where Prince William met his now wife, Kate Middleton.

The town’s historic religious importance is however less well known. The arrival of the relics of St Andrew to the area saw the town grow from humble origins to a religious powerhouse, effectively Scotland’s Rome. The mighty cathedral, a building so massive it would be the largest building in Scotland for 600 years, was built, and the castle followed to provide a residence for the heads of the church. While religion brought growth and prosperity to the town, it also brought intolerance and persecution. The rise of the religious reformation saw particularly brutal times, with key reformers burned alive in St Andrews in deliberately undersized fires to prolong their agony, until the inevitable happened and the reformers took control, driving the archbishops and their followers from their churches, and the cathedral was destroyed.

It is therefore not surprising to hear St Andrews is also considered to be one of the most haunted towns in the world. Murdered monks are said to walk through the cathedral ruins, Cardinal Beaton is seen at the window in the castle from which his body was hung after his assassination, and a mutilated nun still terrifies residents, fearful of seeing her face which is said to cause insanity. Phantom coaches still thunder through the town, one occupied by the Devil himself carrying corrupt religious figures to Hell, and the sounds of bagpipes being played by a piper lost while exploring the secret underground are believed to signify a death in the family of anyone hearing them. The most famous ghost of St Andrews is that of the White Lady, a ghostly figure that has been witnessed walking the cathedral walls for centuries.

The White Lady is reported to always vanish at the same small, square tower built into the wall, but her identity remains a mystery. The path from the harbour to the town passes this tower, and even hardened fishermen of old would rush past as they made their way home at night, without glancing towards it. One report tells of a passer-by who did look across to the tower, and saw a pair of gloved hands frantically waving from one of the small openings. Thinking someone was stuck, he rushed over to help, but as he reached to grab hold of the hands, his own hands passed straight through them.

It was a discovery in the mid 1800’s however that added evidence to the ghost story. The cathedral was being prepared to be opened as a tourist attraction, but centuries of rubbish and rubble had to first be cleared from the grounds, which exposed large areas of deteriorated stonework. Teams of stonemasons worked on the site to restore the damaged stonework, and one uncovered a shocking secret. Working around the base of the haunted tower, as it had become known, he leant against one of the stone blocks, and it moved. Pushing harder, the block slid inwards, revealing a hidden chamber.

The bold workman, along with a couple of his colleagues, decided to explore the chamber and inside they found a number of coffins, one containing the almost perfectly preserved body of a young woman, dressed entirely in white. Was this the body of the White Lady and the reason she always walked towards the tower? The site foreman was less interested in the potential significance of the bodies, and ordered the chamber to again be sealed and that no more was to be said about it, but word did get out. Over the following decades, several influential figures in the town gained permission to enter the chamber to examine the bodies. Each time the bodies were found to have decayed further as a result of the chamber being opened to outside air, yet the number of coffins and positions seemed to vary from account to account, suggesting someone else was gaining access to the chamber for an unknown reason. The final entry to the chamber was made in 1888, when it was found the coffins had been smashed and, other than a few remaining bones, the bodies had been removed. What happened to the bodies, remained as much of a mystery as who they were and why they had been laid to rest in a sealed chamber.

Many people have speculated who the White Lady may be, some say she is from the time of the Picts, which is unlikely, as a ghost from this time would not walk along the walls of a building that did not exist until hundreds of years later. Researchers have noted that although the cathedral wall has several defensive towers, these are all circular. The haunted tower is the only square tower built into the walls. It is theorised that this was not a defensive tower, something backed up by the relatively thin walls, but it was in fact a place for the bishops to go for some quite time for reflection. This has led to a suggestion that the bodies were members of a local noble family. They were good friends with the bishop, having gifted land to the church. When the plague hit the town, several of the family died, and it is possible the Bishop offered his tower as a safe place to keep the bodies to avoid them being thrown in the plague pits. The chamber was sealed to keep the bodies hidden with the intention that after the plague had passed, they would be removed and given a proper burial. With the changing religious times in St Andrews, and the Reformation ending the Roman Catholic grip on the town and country, the opportunity to remove the bodies never arose. Instead, they remained in the tower, undocumented and forgotten, until the unfortunate stonemason made his horrific discovery, one that is said to have caused him to pass out with fear. Although the chamber within the tower can now be viewed, all be it through a metal gate that prevents access, the real identity of the White Lady will never be known for sure, but her ghost is still seen wandering the walls of the Cathedral to this day.