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Free spirit bound by legal ruling

19 December 2014


IT WOULD be inappropriate to inscribe the words "Free Spirit" on a memorial in consecrated ground in a Christian churchyard, the Worshipful Mark Hill QC ruled last month, in the Consistory Court of the Diocese of Chichester. He was refusing a faculty for the introduction of a headstone at a grave in the churchyard of St Andrew's, Fairlight.

The petition for the faculty was brought by Lucy Crammond, in respect of a memorial to be placed at the grave of her mother, Vicky Hammond, who was buried on 25 November 2011. The proposed memorial was in the form of a Celtic cross, with the inscription "Free Spirit".

The inscription generated some debate in the PCC, but it was agreed to be acceptable. The DAC, however, did not support the proposed design, and said that it was "fundamentally and spiritually inappropriate", and lacked "any Christian substance". The Celtic-knot design was, the DAC said, "weak, and below the standard expected in a rural churchyard".

The Churchyard Regulations state: "A headstone is a public statement about the person who is being commemorated. . . The right choice of stone, design, and inscription is important, not only to the relatives and 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 . . .

"Epitaphs should honour the dead, comfort the living, and inform posterity. They will be read long after the bereaved have themselves passed away."

The design of the Celtic cross did not come within the classes of memorial permitted under Churchyard Regulations. Nevertheless, the Chancellor said that he was satisfied that it would not look out of place in its setting, "bringing some individuality to what is all too frequently bland and homogeneous".

The greater difficulty was in the inscription "Free Spirit", the Chancellor said. Although those words appeared in combination in various places in the Bible, they did not convey anything of Christian belief, nor the hope in the resurrection, as was appropriate in a consecrated burial ground.

The petitioner was advised to have a discussion with the Rector or the Archdeacon in order to explore what other inscription might be considered appropriate.

The Chancellor indicated that, if a more appropriate inscription was proposed - or no inscription at all - he would sanction the unorthodox inscribing of the deceased's dates of birth and death on the left and right tips respectively of the cross.

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