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The skull and crossbones graves in St Mary’s Churchyard

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The skull and crossbones graves in St Mary’s Churchyard capture visitors’ attention. They are the subject of stories and intrigue, and we look at these stories in this article. 

Have you ever seen the skull and crossbones on some St Mary’s Churchyard tombstones? Have you ever wondered who they belong to? We certainly have. There is much conflicting information on who these graves could belong to. In this article, we will delve into the history of St Mary’s Churchyard. We explore the stories behind these intriguing graves.


St Mary's Churchyard

St Mary’s Churchyard

St. Mary’s, Whitby’s Parish Church, sits on the East Cliff and has existed since 1110. It has been modified and extended over the centuries without being completely rebuilt. Some parts date back to Norman times in the early 12th Century.

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Graves in St Mary's Churchyard.

St. Mary’s Churchyard is home to many tombstones. The weather has caused them a lot of damage and wear. Due to its location at the top of 199 Steps, it was challenging to transport coffins up to the graveyard. Wealthier families could use a horse and carriage to travel up the parallel track to the steps.

The graveyard is the final resting place for various people, including ordinary citizens, sailors, and fishermen. Here several tombstones are engraved in remembrance of rather than here lies. That indicates many sailors and fishermen were lost at sea, and their bodies were not recovered.


Skull and crossbones

A skull and crossbones is a well-known symbol. It features a human skull and two long bones crossed together, positioned under or behind the skull. This design dates to the Late Middle Ages. The symbol signifies death, particularly as a memento mori on tombstones.


St Mary’s Churchyard.

Could the skull and crossbones mean it’s Dracula’s grave?

Some people believed one could be the grave of Dracula. Dracula is a fictional character, there is no record of Count Dracula ever being buried in St Mary’s Churchyard. Vlad Tepes, a 15th-century prince, inspired the character of Dracula. He is buried near his home in Transylvania, Romania, at Lake Snagov.


Are the two skull and crossbones graves for Freemasons?

Many people believe that those buried with skull and crossbones markers in graves across Britain, especially in Scotland, could have been members of the Knights Templar. However, a mason’s grave is less than 200 yards away from these markers, with a mason compass placed on it. 


Could the graves be for two men shot by French Privateers?

In the book The Foul Deeds and Suspicious Deaths on the Yorkshire Coast, there is a suggestion that the graves belonged to two men that French Privateers shot. Again, no evidence can fully prove who these graves belonged to.


The Barguest Coach.

The Barguest Coach

Legend has it that lost souls who perished at sea would find their graves visited by the Barguest Coach. This would take place on the third night of their burial.

Witnesses have reported seeing the haunting sight of headless horses pulling the coach, with passengers consisting of the skeletal remains of sailors paying their respects to the deceased seaman.

As soon as the dead sailor’s soul is aboard the coach. It sets off again, riding through the graveyard, disappearing into the darkness, and heading towards the sea.

The graveyard can be spooky at night! Catching a glimpse of the Barguest Coach as it travels up the 199 steps is not for the faint-hearted. Only the extremely brave should attempt it!


We have also seen suggestions that they were pirates. There are also suggestions that the skull and crossbones were a warning to grave robbers. And to stay away as that those buried here had the plague.


Nobody knows who the graves are for and why there are skulls and crossbones on the headstones. Many people believe that a grave with a skull and crossbones is a reminder to the living about their mortality. What do you think? Let us know if you have any further information in the comments.

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