Churchyards,memorials, noticeboards & trees
A churchyard is a highly visible symbol of the Christian faith. Their appearance and condition says much about the church to which they belong. They can be places of quiet and reflection with wildlife habitats and ancient and distinctive trees. They hold the collective ancient and modern memory of the parish and above all, they are places to grieve, to mourn and to contemplate.
Headstones and Memorials
The message at all Church of England funerals, wherever they happen, is one of hope. Although there is sadness because someone you know and love has died, in every Church of England funeral there will also be a message of hope in life after death. Each person is unique – in personality and in life experience. A Church of England funeral allows you to give thanks for the unique person you knew and loved in a way that gives comfort and hope. Help to arrange a funeral, cope with bereavement and more can be found on the Church of England's Here for Everyone website
It is essential that the meaning and consequences of burial in consecrated ground is fully understood. The nature of the rite of burial is to say 'farewell' to the deceased and to commend them to the mercy and love of God in Christ and to await the transformation of resurrection. There is accordingly a theological finality to all interments, including those of cremated remains, in ground consecrated according to the rites of the Church of England. This is inconsistent with the concept of portability of remains and the future prospect of exhumation.
Why can't I have what I want on the grave? When a new grave is purchased it is not the ownership of the land itself that is purchased, but the rights to have burials take place in that grave. These rights are sold, or to be more correct, 'granted' together with the rights to erect a memorial on the grave in accordance with the rules and regulations of the Church.
By seeking a burial in consecrated ground, families accept the jurisdiction of the Consistory Court which regulates the shape, size, material and content of headstones. This jurisdiction exists for reasons which are in part theological and part aesthetic and practical, since what may be unobjectionable in a municipal cemetery might be considered inappropriate in a churchyard.
Before making any decisions please make sure you are aware of which form of memorial can and cannot be permitted in a churchyard
Chancellor’s Churchyard Rules
Christian churchyards are governed by Canon Law which sets out how they should be managed and the type of commemorations allowed. The purpose of Canon Law is to ensure churchyards reflect the Christian faith and remain peaceful, dignified and respectful places welcome to all. This means that many of the features allowed in cemeteries may not be permitted in a churchyard.
It is unlawful for a headstone or other memorial to be introduced into a churchyard without permission. However, for administrative convenience and to minimise expense, the Chancellor delegates to parochial clergy the authority to permit the introduction of a monument provided it is of a type which complies with the detailed provisions set out in the Chancellor’s churchyard rules. During a vacancy, or in the absence of a priest-in-charge, this delegated authority is exercised by the area dean. Applications for memorials should generally not be made until six months have passed since the interment. If a proposal for a headstone or other monument not comply with the Chancellor's regulations, a faculty must be applied for. Please note, seeking permission from the Chancellor to vary the rules may not be successful and you are always encouraged to consider the scope of options already provided for.
A headstone is a public statement about the person who is being commemorated. Making the right choice of stone, design and inscription is important not only to the relatives or friends who are going to provide the memorial, but also to the wider community because of the effect which the headstone may have upon the appearance of the churchyard. Attractive, well-conceived designs by skilled and imaginative craftsmen should be encouraged. Headstone Designs by Artists
Epitaphs should honour the dead, comfort the living and inform posterity. They will be read long after the bereaved have themselves passed away. Inscriptions are encouraged which give a flavour of the life of the person commemorated rather than blandly recording a name and dates. A memorial stone is not the right place for a statement about how members of the family feel about the deceased nor how they would address him or her were they still alive. Passages of scripture, which have a timeless quality, are to be preferred.
A PCC is legally responsibility for the safety of their churchyard. Information of dealing with damaged or unsafe headstones or monuments may be found here
Memorials in Church
The general rule is that a faculty for a memorial tablet inside a church will not be granted until a period of five years has elapsed from the date of death of the person commemorated. It is intended in this way to provide a period of reflection about the best means of commemoration, which is often found to be helpful.
'The primary purpose of a war memorial repair project should be to restrain the process of decay without damaging the character of the memorial, altering the features which give it its historic or architectural interest, or unnecessarily disturbing or destroying historic fabric. The use of inappropriate materials and techniques can cause further problems and long term damage to the fabric of the memorial, so repairs should never be carried out without first analysing the physical characteristics of the memorial and identifying the causes of any defects.'
War memorials are historical artefacts that record the sentiment and memory of the people of their day. Prior to the Boer War, it was rare to commemorate the fallen in battle. This changed with the loss of some 750,000 men in WWI with the affect felt in nearly every town and village in the country. Most memorials were funded through public subscription and had their own criteria for the design, materials, listing of names and dates. Other than professional cleaning based on advice from a conservation report, revising memorials to address modern sentiments or add names believed to have been omitted should be avoided so that those who were lost and those who mourned them are accorded the dignity and respect of their time.
'Inscriptions may be carved in stone for many uses but the monumental inscription is usually designed to be a record for those who care to search for it rather than an announcement to the world – not so much an advertisement as a confidence.'
Sir Edwin Lutyens, member of the WWI national monument committee in
Historic England The Conservation, Repair and Management of War Memorials
Churchyards for all
Caring for a large or old churchyard can take up considerable time. In order for the churchyard to be well maintained, the reordering of churchyards allows for monuments and headstones to be relocated and for kerbstones to be removed. The following links offer advice and support on the different approaches to caring for churchyards, their heritage and habitat. Many churches find setting up a Friends’ Group is a good way of finding additional help, support and ideas for the care of their churchyard.
The Woodland Trust offers free native hedging and trees to community groups to plant in November or March. Research has found that millennials enjoy the quietness and contemplative nature that well-ordered churchyards offer and others find solace and comfort in being able to visit a churchyard that is dignified and respectful.
There are many projects that can help you to develop your churchyard and encourage people to take an interest in its condition and presentation:
Monthly grants are made to support the conservation of wildlife and the environment by the HDH Wills 1965 Charitable Trust. The Trust makes grants of between £250 and £1,000 (sometimes up to £5,000) to general, environmental and wildlife charities, so long as they are registered with the Charity Commission of England and Wales or they are exempt or excepted charities (within the meaning of the Charities Act 2011). Supported charities will be small in size or be applying for support for a modest project, such that the grant will have a meaningful impact. There are no deadlines, grants may be made towards revenue, capital or project expenditure and email, postal or online applications are accepted.
All work to trees should be undertaken by a qualified arborist working to BS 3998: 2010 Tree Work. Most work to trees can be undertaken under List B permission. A faculty is required to fell a tree that is established by an arborist's report to be neither dead, dying or dangerous. The assumption is that whenever possible trees are to be cared for and maintained as valuable additions to the churchyard and local landscape.
This will be the first opportunity to make a connection with a visitor to your church so it is important that you get this right. Before you plan what it should say consider whether it is in the right place. If you’re thinking about getting a new board does it have to go where the old one was? Noticeboards are often placed in churchyards and their design, condition and style say as much about the church as the activities they list. Some signs will require local planning permission as well as a faculty.
Main noticeboards should contain the wording and/or the logo of The Church of England and Diocese of Sheffield. A faculty will be required for a new notice board or the refurbishment of an existing one. They need to be clear, easily read, uncluttered and well maintained. If you have more than one noticeboard, ensure they have the same style and colours and do not repeat information unnecessarily.
Closing and Closed Churchyards
Section 4(1)(ii)(c) of the Parochial Church Councils (Powers) Measure 1956 sets out the responsibility of the Parochial Church Council for the maintenance of a churchyard. If a churchyard becomes full and unable to accommodate new burials, then it is possible to apply for the churchyard to be formally closed. Burials may still take place in existing graves where there is space for another internment and it is possible to continue using a cremated remains plot.
If a PCC decides it wishes to close its churchyards an application has to be made to the Ministry of Justice to obtain an Order in Council. A Parochial Church Council may apply for a closing order in the circumstances set out in the Guidance issued by the Ministry of Justice. Attached is the form of application for a closing order. Please contact the Ministry of Justice before you make an application to close a churchyard (or to enquire whether a closing order has already been made in respect of a particular churchyard) to ensure that you have the latest version of their application form.
Tel: 0203 334 2813. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Once a churchyard has been closed for further burials by Order in Council responsibility for maintenance falls to the Parish or District Council
A list of churchyards in the Diocese of Sheffield that have closure orders can be found here.
Notes on the maintenance of closed churchyards can be found here
Barnsley, Doncaster Rotherham and Sheffield Councils have collectively produced a comprehensive directory of advice and sources for family historians which can be accessed by clicking on the link below. We regret we are unable to assist with searches for family history.