Now that’s a well-hidden spot in Edinburgh – in fact, it was kept so secret that Herman Lyon’s Mausoleum was completely forgotten for around 150 years. In 2013, two people climbed through a rabbit hole on Calton Hill and ended up in a secret tomb by chance. Later, the crypt was confirmed to be a Jewish burial site from the 18th century.
Herman Lyon’s Mausoleum is a man-made Jewish crypt located just North of the City Observatory complex. According to city records, Herman Lion was looking for a burial site for him and his family as the city was heavily Christian during that time with little to no options for the Jewish community. Lion bought some land on Calton Hill off the council between 1794 and 1796 at a not-so-modest price of £17, transforming it into the first Jewish mausoleum in Edinburgh. However, the precise date is not known of Lion’s death or when the mausoleum was built.
The tomb consists of a main chamber with a barrel-vaulted roof and modern hardcore dumped on its floor from nearby roadworks at the time, built inside a natural existing cave within the hill. The mausoleum measures three metres by four metres, featuring a 12-metre entrance to the tomb.
The reason why the crypt was literally forgotten by time is that its entrance was concealed during some drainage works around Calton Hill in the 1850s. While the entrance remains sealed off to the public, next time you’re up on the hill, take a peek at the north-western part of the Observatory. You will see slabs in the ground, marking the roof of the entrance to Herman Lyon’s Mausoleum.
Herman Lyon was known to be a dentist and “corn operator”, which has nothing to do with agriculture or farming, but it is known as the field of chiropody nowadays. And considering he bought a small plot of land just for a burial site for himself and his family means he did fairly well for himself.
It’s interesting how much information gets lost about people and their lives throughout history, even if they were wealthy, successful and “respected” in society. Perhaps, the realisation can make us take some time to reflect on our own lives and focus on what really matters, instead of chasing money, power, or whatever else society tells us to.
After all, even if we get buried in our own mausoleums, all we have to show is the love and kindness we showed others and living our truth surrounded by the people who matter.