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Burial Regulations Guide

The Diocesan churchyard regulations. A guide for Clergy and Church wardens.

This Guide seeks to explain the Diocesan Churchyard Regulations and to help clergy and their parishes adopt good practice in the management of burial grounds in churchyards.

In addition to the general law, burial grounds in churchyards are subject to the Diocesan Churchyard Regulations. These Regulations are made by the Diocesan Chancellor and set out the type of memorial that the minister of a Parish may permit without the requirement of a Faculty of the Diocesan Chancellor. Compliance with the Diocesan Churchyard Regulations is a matter of legal obligation. The Regulations also set out restrictions regarding the type of inscription permitted and prohibitions regarding kerbs, railings, stones, chippings, garden areas, photographs, artificial flowers, and similar matters.

Some Parishes have added their own additional regulations to reflect local circumstances. Likewise the maximum permissible dimensions for memorials may not be appropriate for some Churchyards and some Parishes may wish to apply smaller dimensions.

Parts of the Diocesan Regulations may need to be adjusted in particular cases – for example some Parishes have adopted a practice of not permitting a memorial directly associated with the place of interment of cremated remains in a Garden of Remembrance and therefore the Regulation specifying the maximum dimensions of cremated remains memorials should be omitted. The Regulations also include the maximum dimensions for a vertical memorial marking the place of interment of cremated remains – but many Parishes do not permit that type of memorial and in such cases that provision should be omitted.

Any amendments must be notified to the Diocesan Registrar for approval.

Clergy must ensure that all memorial masons who work in their churchyards are aware of the Parish's Regulations and that they are fully observed. Prior written approval for all memorials must be sought.

Memorial masons must submit applications for permission to introduce a memorial to the incumbent or priest in charge – or during a vacancy to a parish administrator or churchwarden (who will then forward the application to the Rural Dean) of the Parish - and a precedent form is attached.

In all cases an application may be made to the Diocesan Chancellor for his Faculty to permit a type of memorial that does not comply with the Regulations.

The minister may not approve a memorial that does not comply with the Regulations. If a minister is not willing to approve the application, an application may be made for a Faculty.

A copy of the 2007 edition of the Diocesan Churchyard Regulations is attached to this Guidance and further copies are available on request either from the Diocesan Registrar, Friars, White Friars, Chester CH1 1XS or from Church House Lower Lane Aldford Chester CH3 6HP. The Regulations, this Guidance, the Application form and other material are available on the Diocesan website.

An initial request for a Faculty Application form should always be made to the Diocesan Registrar.

When arranging a funeral in Church or a burial – including the interment of cremated remains - in the churchyard, the minister should explain the need for approval of a memorial, the inscription and anything that is to be placed on the grave and also explain what he or she is willing to approve under the Regulations.

Many complaints received by the Archdeacons and the Diocesan Registrar relate to churchyard matters and would have been avoided if persons arranging funerals or burials and interments had been informed at the outset of the provisions of the Regulations. There are included with this Guidance examples of shortened versions of the Regulations and also an example of a form of Application for Permission which incorporates a summary of the Diocesan Regulations.

The suggested Application Form includes a section for completion by the Memorial Mason which requires confirmation that the memorial will be constructed and installed in accordance with the requirements of the Recommended Code of Working Practice of the National Association of Memorial Masons (NAMM) and the British Standard.

The main changes in the new edition of the Regulations

1: The express requirement that all memorials must be constructed and installed in accordance with the NAMM Recommended Code of Working Practice and the British Standard. The NAMM Code applies to memorials exceeding 20 inches in height.

2: A memorial should be placed on undisturbed ground – not on the part of the grave that has been dug out.

3: The Regulations reflect the practice of forming Gardens of Remembrance for the interment of cremated remains where memorials are not permitted in a position that is directly associated with the place of interment.

4: The Regulations specify the maximum dimensions for a vertical memorial marking the place of interment of cremated remains – where that practice is locally permitted.

5: The Regulations omit the previous reference to inscriptions containing quotations from biblical or literary sources.

6: The Regulations omit the prohibition of book shaped memorials. However in some churchyards – or parts of churchyards - such memorials may not be appropriate and should not be permitted. Indeed in the setting of some churches, a modern highly polished memorial may not be appropriate. Clergy should consult their churchwardens and PCC generally regarding the policy and practice to be adopted in relation to modern memorials. If in doubt, clergy should consult the Archdeacon or refer an applicant to the Diocesan Registrar for the purposes of a faculty application.

7: The Regulations omit the prohibition on artificial flowers but reference is made the removal of faded flowers which will include the removal of artificial flowers that have become unsightly or inappropriate to the season – e.g. daffodils in the summer. It is a matter of good sense – remembering that many who mourn and grieve cannot frequently visit and place fresh flowers on a grave but who draw comfort from the fact that their flowers act as a mark of their love for the person who has died. Equally the colour of some artificial flowers changes in direct sunlight and will need to be removed.

Some general comments
It is essential that the Churchyard Regulations are observed both by clergy and memorial masons. Many complaints received arise in cases where a previous minister has ignored the Regulations and a new minister seeks to apply them.

Compliance with the Regulations will avoid problems for all.

As regards INSCRIPTIONS AND EPITAPHS, a pastoral approach is preferred – but families of the deceased should be reminded that over long inscriptions leave no space for future inscriptions. Whilst the inscription should relate to the deceased, the inscription may include references to the deceased as being a father or mother etc of named persons. A reasonable balance should be maintained.

Many complaints have been received regarding the prohibition of ARTIFICIAL FLOWERS. Modern silk flowers are said to be indistinguishable from natural flowers. Clergy and persons who look after Churchyards need to adopt a sensitive approach and indeed it is not likely that anyone will have sufficient free time to search out for and remove good quality artificial flowers.

Needless to say, withered flowers, whether natural or artificial, need to be removed in order to maintain the quality of the churchyard.

Common sense needs to be applied regarding the type of STONE to be used in Churchyards. Different criteria need to be applied in different types of Churchyard – and in different parts of the same Churchyard. A modern highly polished granite memorial will not be appropriate in many older churchyards where the surrounding memorials are old, unpolished and weathered.

Memorial masons will be at fault if they allow customers to choose a modern memorial in an inappropriate situation – they must know and respect the churchyards in which they normally work.

SAFETY in Churchyards is a matter of the utmost importance. Kerbs are liable to be the cause of tripping and are not permitted without a faculty. Likewise railings and chains may inflict injury and indeed may impede access to another person’s family memorial. Stone chippings and the like are liable to damage grass cutting equipment and indeed may cause injury to persons operating such equipment or persons standing close by. If you notice items of this type appearing in the churchyard, action needs to be taken immediately – do not wait as others will follow suit. First contact the family and ask them to remove the offending items. If they refuse, seek a Faculty.

Again, many complaints are received regarding the height of GRASS in churchyards. Churches cannot afford – and do not have the resources – to maintain the grass in a churchyard to a Wimbledon standard. Volunteers to help are welcome persons. It is important that the task of cutting grass is eased – and this means that those cutting grass are not compelled to run an obstacle course. That is the reason why vases should be placed on the memorial plinth – not on the grass. The area in front of a memorial should not be planted out as a garden. All this hinders churchyard maintenance. If families are told at the outset that gardens etc are not permitted, they cannot complain later when they are asked to remove them. If they are not told, they will complain. Likewise if a blind eye is turned to one non-compliance, others will follow suit.

INDIVIDUAL DESIGNS are not to be discouraged but do require careful scrutiny – through the faculty system.

Churchyard layout
The layout of a churchyard must take into account the needs of the disabled and the infirm. A local authority health and safety officer has recently made the point that churchyards as well as church buildings must enable disabled access. Remember that the majority of persons who visit family graves are the elderly – and they are put at risk if the pathways are too narrow.

The Institute of Cemetery & Crematorium Management suggest the following in lawned sections:

• ‘back to back’ memorials are advisable
• 900mm wide strip of virgin ground or raft foundation placed at 6.1m (21’) centres
• each grave plot should measure a minimum of 2.7m (9’) by 1.5m (5’) – this should be in addition to 900mm strip of virgin ground or foundation.

Also allow sufficient space between memorials – do not tightly pack graves close together.

Do not arrange for a row of graves to be laid out close to a wall hedge or similar feature. You are likely to need access to the wall or hedge at some time in the future.

Graves and memorials should not be laid out close to a tree or trees.

The Parochial Registers and Records Measure requires that a Register of Burials is maintained and the Burial Register is to include the reference number of the grave on the churchyard plan. It is necessary therefore for a proper plan of the churchyard be prepared and maintained and a scheme of numbering grave plots should be adopted - for example, by reference to sections rows and grave numbers.

Some legal points

1: Who has the legal right to be buried or to have their ashes interred in a Churchyard?
A person who:

a) lived in the parish at the time of their death; or
b) died in the parish: or
c) was on the church electoral role of the parish at the time of their death

has the legal right to be buried, or have their ashes interred, in any consecrated burial ground forming part of the churchyard of the Parish Church or other consecrated burial ground belonging to the Church.

A Parish may decide to permit persons outside of these categories to be buried, or their ashes to be interred in a burial ground or garden of remembrance but in most cases only in cases where there are strong pastoral grounds.

2: May a burial plot be bought?
No – Consecrated ground may not be purchased or sold – as a matter of law. Fees must be paid for burial or interment in a churchyard and also for the approval of a memorial and the amount of the fee payable in cases where the deceased person had a legal right of burial or interment is fixed each year by the General Synod of the Church of England. The fee is not a purchase price for the burial or interment plot and the family of the deceased do not become owners of or acquire exclusive rights to the plot.

3: How can a grave plot be reserved?
A Faculty is necessary to authorise the reservation of a specified burial plot and such faculties are not granted as a matter of course.

Reservation faculties are granted for a specified periods of years – normally 30 years – but in particular cases the reservation period may be longer.

4: What is the minimum depth of soil between a coffin and the ground surface?
The Local Authorities' Cemeteries Order, 1977 provides that: No body shall be buried in a grave in such a manner that any part of the coffin is less than three feet below the level of any ground adjoining the grave; provided that the burial authority may, where they consider the soil to be of suitable character, permit a coffin made of perishable material to be placed not less than two feet (60.96 cm) below the level of any ground adjoining the grave.

No body shall be buried in a grave unless the coffin is effectively separated from any coffin interred in the grave on a previous occasion by means of a layer of earth no less than six inches (15.24 cm) thick.

When any grave is reopened for the purpose of making another burial therein, no person shall disturb any human remains interred therein or remove therefrom any soil which is offensive.

5: When will an exhumation be permitted?
A faculty is always necessary to authorise an exhumation. In addition a Burial Act Licence – from the Department for Constitutional Affairs - will also be necessary if the re-burial or re-interment is not to be in a consecrated burial ground – that is consecrated in accordance with rites of the Church of England. Note that parts of some local authority cemeteries or burial grounds are consecrated.

In deciding whether to grant of faculty, the Diocesan Chancellor treats cremated remains in the same manner as other human remains.

Exhumation faculties are granted in exceptional cases only – for example if a mistake has been made and a person has been buried or their ashes interred in the wrong plot.

The general principle is that human remains should rest in peace. On burial or interment in consecrated ground, human remains are committed to the protection of the Church.

Much heartache would be avoided if a gentle question is asked of a surviving husband or wife – or a civil partner – or other close family member when a funeral or the burial or interment is arranged. If the person who has died is to be cremated, ask whether that is also the wish of the surviving spouse or civil partner – on occasions the survivor does not wish their remains to be cremated and expects that the other’s cremated remains can readily be exhumed and move to their new full grave at the time of their death.

Explain that this may not be allowed – certainly not as a matter of course. Consideration should be given to the reservation of a grave and the interment of the cremated remains in the reserved grave plot.

Similarly, distress can be avoided by gently explaining to the survivor and the other members of the deceased’s family that an exhumation will not be allowed simply because the survivor has moved away – to a care home or to to be close to their children – and is no longer able to visit the churchyard. Very special grounds would be necessary before such an exhumation is permitted.

Similarly an exhumation would not be readily permitted in a case where the survivor dies and is buried or interred in another churchyard or place and permission is sought to exhume the remains of the spouse or partner who died first so that they can placed in the new grave or interment plot.

Gentle pastoral care in asking the right questions at the right time will avoid later distress for a mourning family. Do not give any indication that permission for an exhumation is granted as a matter of course – rather, that the contrary is the case.

6: Replacing Memorials
Care needs to be taken to ensure that all relevant members of a family approve the removal of an old memorial and its replacement. Following a case where the local church found itself in the middle of a family dispute, the Diocesan Registrar prepared a special application form.

It is important that the Memorial Approval Application form is used for a second or later burial. If the memorial is removed to enable an additional inscription to be made, the liability of the memorial mason for the safety of the memorial will be ended and the memorial mason who re-installs the memorial must undertake that liability.

7: DIY Memorials
Home made memorials must not be permitted.

8: Memorials without associated burials
Recently a number of enquiries have been received regarding applications for permission to introduce in a churchyard memorials which relate solely to persons whose remains are buried or interred elsewhere. Memorials should not be permitted in such cases. If such a memorial is proposed by a person who wishes their own remains to be buried or interred in a grave in due time, they must apply for a faculty to reserve the grave plot.

9: Fees for replacement memorials
Parochial fees are set on the basis that the PCC fee for a memorial is a contribution to the costs of maintenance and upkeep of the churchyard.

Accordingly the PCC fee should not be charged for a replacement memorial.

The incumbent's part of the fee should be charged because the incumbent has to approve the design of the memorial each time.

In conclusion
Many problems and complaints would be avoided by a proper and fair administration of the Diocesan Churchyard Regulations – and by providing a summary to persons arranging funerals and burials or interments.

If Parishes adopt special Regulations to fit the particular circumstances of their Church or Churchyard, make sure that funeral directors and the memorial masons who normally work in the churchyard are aware of the special Regulations.

And always administer the Regulations firmly and fairly.

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The DAC Office - The office of the Diocesan Advisory Commitee (DAC) has responsibility for progressing faculty applications and providing policy advice on church building matters.  The answer to most popular enquiries will be available via these web pages but do contact the DAC Office if not.  Where appropriate, the DAC Office can put you in touch with churches who have undertaken similar work to any scheme you might be proposing yourself.