The Ghost of the Black Abbot in York

Dear Ms Sant,

Whilst in your marvellous City on Saturday I took the attached photograph.

I can only promise you is not a fake.

I took the picture because I thought the colours particularly good and deliberately waited for a ‘people free’ moment. I was sure I got it, so was puzzled by the dark image in the bottom right hand corner?

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The above extract of an email and photo were sent to me in December 2011, informing me of a ghost sighting, the gentleman* believed he had had, while visiting York.

*Please note: The photo is copyright to the gentleman who visited York, and he didn’t want any publicity for himself so his name and other details have been kept private. 

St Mary’s Abbey in the Museum Gardens in its heyday, was the richest abbey in the North of England.  Tales abounded of the monks’ indulgences.  They drank and feasted and lived an affluent lifestyle.

Needless to say their way of life changed when they had to flee, according to some rumours, through a tunnel underneath Stonegate.  Henry VIII was busy overthrowing the Catholic faith and seizing monasteries and abbeys including St Mary’s.  He took the abbot’s house for himself and renamed it King’s Manor.

grave roman
Roman burial place in Museum Gardens by Helen Sant


Back to the present day and tales float about that a phantom monk has been seen dressed in black, wandering through the Museum Gardens after dark.  Of course few of us can corroborate such a story since the gates are locked at dusk.  Though there have been daytime sightings too.

Another story I came across in recent years, was of a librarian in the basement of York Library (now Explore York).  She saw, in the bright morning sunlight, a hooded figure.  The librarian was not afraid as the figure hovered by the window, which overlooked Mary’s Abbey, before melting away….!

Returning to the gentleman who contacted me with the photo at the top of this blogpage, this is what he went on to say:

At first I thought somebody had wandered into the shot without me noticing and was going to ‘remove’ him/her. It’s not though, is it?? Thinking I might find another picture that revealed the reason for the shadow, I looked on the internet. I couldn’t find anything as such, but was taken aback to see there have been many sightings of the ‘Black Abbot’ at St Mary’s.

Any thoughts at all please? Both the preceding and subsequent shots
do not have similar marks and this one was taken at 160th [of a second],
which means that the bright comet type thing is moving pretty fast. Although deceptive, I reckon the ‘figure’ stands about the height of a tall person. Also, the image mostly remains dark when you increase the exposure, which suggests that, whatever it is, has mass.

black abbot picture slowed downThe section of photo he sent me, enlarged from the above photo is shown above here.  Spooky!  Could this be the abbot himself?

Back then, I advised the gentleman (who as I have said, wished to remain anonymous) to send it to the Fortean Times. He asked me to circulate it after no response from them. At various times it has been displayed on websites of mine.

Anyone who can shed any light on the mystery, please do comment!  And in the light of certain changes to the gardens, perhaps we can see a resurgence in sightings….If you’re anywhere near the Museum Gardens in York, do beware!

It is with true love as it is with ghosts; everyone talks about it, but few have seen it. Francois de La Rochefoucauld


Historic painting of St Marys Abbey

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