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Fascinating Discovery Finds Witch Prison in Medieval Scottish Church

By Andrew Alpin, 18 December 2022

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A recent archaeological dig at a church in Scotland has helped people get a clearer picture of what Witches were and how they were treated in the past. Scientists in Aberdeen found up to 2,000 bodies and a stash of medieval documents that show the Kirk of St. Nicholas Uniting was used as a “Witch prison” in the 1500s. What is the real history behind this sacred structure? Here’s what you need to know about the Kirk of St. Nicholas.

12 Historians uncovered a dark secret of a 15th-century Scottish chapel in Aberdeen

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According to historians, a 15th-century Scottish chapel in Aberdeen was used as a witch prison for convicted witches during the “Great Witch Hunt” in 1597. During Aberdeen’s “Great Witch Hunt,” 23 women and one man were charged with witchcraft, tried, and executed.

Historians uncovered a dark secret of a 15th-century Scottish chapel in Aberdeen

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11 St. Nicholas’ East Kirk archaeological excavations

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During archaeological excavations in the East Kirk (the Lowland Scots word for “church”) of St Nicholas in 2006 and 2007, the remains of approximately 2,000 people, including 1,000 complete bones, were discovered. Historians believe most of the remains were buried before the 1560s, some of whom had been buried since the 11th century.

St. Nicholas’ East Kirk archaeological excavations

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10 Prison for witches

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St Mary’s Chapel sits beneath the floor level of the main church. An 1868 drawing of St Mary’s Chapel illustrates how the church was actually a former witch prison before it was converted for religious use.

Arthur Winfield, project leader for the OpenSpace Trust in the United Kingdom, which is restoring the chapel as part of a community-based redevelopment of the East Kirk sanctuary, explained that two parts of the kirk had been outfitted as a prison for witches arrested in the Aberdeen witch hunt- the stone-vaulted chapel of St Mary and the kirk’s lofty steeple, which was the largest structure in the city at the time.

Prison for witches

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9 The prison was in an icy-cold location

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In the winter of 1597, when those accused of witchcraft awaited trial and likely execution, neither location would have been warm. According to Winfield: “In the winter nowadays, the temperature gets down to 3 degrees (Celsius) in St Mary’s Chapel, and I guess it would be even colder up in the spire.”

The prison was in an icy-cold location

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