top of page

The Suicide Skeleton, St Mary's College

Parts of St Mary’s College, which forms part of the wider St Andrews University, date back to the 16th century. The college was initially planned by James Beaton in 1525, although it was not until 1539 that the college was officially founded with construction being overseen by his nephew, Cardinal David Beaton.

The buildings of St Mary’s College are significant, they include the King James Library which is the oldest in Scotland. The library was originally planned to house books bequeathed to the University by Mary, Queen of Scots, along with the university's own collections. However, delays in the funding, which was provided by King James VI, resulted in the construction not being completed until 1643. Just 2 years later, when the plague struck Edinburgh, the Scottish Parliament temporarily moved to the lower hall of the library which is still known as Parliament Hall today.

Astronomer and scientist, James Gregory, later based his laboratory in the library building. Despite passing away at just 36 years old, Gregory achieved much in his life, including the invention of the Gregorian Telescope, a design for a reflecting telescope that pre-dates Sir Isaac Newton’s Newtonian telescope by 5 years, and a meridian line that predates the Greenwich Meridian Line by 200 years resulting in the university being said to be 'the place where time began’.

Needless to say, for such an ancient complex of buildings, there are also a number of tales of reputed hauntings associated with them. Although there is no direct link, a number of the strange goings on have been attributed to a rather morbid reminder of times past which was displayed for centuries, dubbed the Suicide Skeleton.

With St Andrews University having buildings around the town messengers used to be employed to deliver notes, almost an internal postal service. In 1707, it is said that one of the messengers was found to have hung himself in St Mary's College. With suicide being a sin, he was denied a Christian burial and instead, his body was sent to the medical school of Dundee University to be used for research. Once they had completed their work, the skeleton was articulated and returned to St Andrews. It was displayed in various places within the college before going missing for a period of time only to be found at the back of a storage cupboard. In 1941 the skeleton was finally given a proper burial, yet despite this reports of strange activity continued within the college, and continue to do so.

A visit to the courtyard of St Mary's College is well worth it, not only to view these ancient buildings, but also 2 significant trees. The massive Holm Oak tree, planted around 1704, is said to be the biggest in Scotland. Nearby, a small hawthorn tree stands, which is believed to have been planted by Mary, Queen of Scots, in 1536. Perhaps in reference to the size of the Holm Oak, the Heritage Trees listing states ‘Queen Mary's Hawthorn is living proof that trees don't always have to be big to be important’.

69 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page