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Faculties for mowability

05 June 2015

When I was visiting my mother's grave last week, someone from the church said that they were planning to lay all the gravestones flat and drop kerbstones so that mowing would be easy. We are incredibly upset, and wondering if the church can really do that to us.


THE answer, in short, is no. The faculty (legal permission) to make significant changes to a churchyard that is still being used for burials is extremely difficult to obtain, and making mowing easy is not a sufficient reason.

Let me outline some of the principles involved generally - and add that just last week a great little book, Caring for your Church Building, by James Halsall (Kevin Mayhew), landed on my desk, and I have dipped into it to top up my knowledge. The author has been a diocesan-advisory-committee (DAC) secretary for 20 years, so knows a lot more about the subject than I do.

Headstones and memorials are put up in graveyards with permission by faculty. Within set guidelines, that is not an individual faculty. It follows that they may only be changed by faculty also. The care and maintenance are the responsibility of those who installed the stone, and the church or churchwardens would need to ask the family concerned to undertake any required work, usually only for reasons of safety - as when a stone was leaning dangerously. As Halsall says: "Most repairs or the permanent relocation of a memorial will require a faculty."

It may be good news that the church wants to change or improve the churchyard, but there are general rules that must be complied with. The DAC secretary will advise the church on what permissions are needed in detail, but expect to need a faculty, and also expect responses to the public notice that has to be in situ for 28 days as part of the process.

Graves may not be disturbed, unless - for example, in a closed churchyard where burials are no longer held - they are really old, and due process is followed. For example, present generations of the families of those originally buried may need to be contacted and permission sought from them. This applies to full burials, not to buried ashes.

Many churchyards are potential havens for wildlife, and can be set out to encourage both human and animal visitors. Dead and dangerous trees may need attention; permission from the archdeacon will be all that is necessary, and it is possible to encourage plants and insects by leaving the grass unmown, apart from paths that give access to graves. Many graveyards have a kind of peace about them that many people enjoy, and a well-placed bench or two can be a welcome facility.

A note on closed churchyards - that is, ones that are no longer used for burials, except, perhaps, for ashes. With a formal notice, the care of a closed churchyard may be passed to the local authority, but bear in mind that the standard of care is not controlled; the parochial church council is still responsible for the churchyard, and should notify the local authority about any maintenance concerns, and also have appropriate public-liability insurance. Even when the churchyard is closed, this is still consecrated land under faculty jurisdiction, and the local authority may need reminding of this as it makes plans.

The issues over churchyards, faculties, restrictions, responsibilities, and the challenges of change seem both more obtuse and more intense than those that concern the building itself. Do ask your archdeacon or DAC secretary before you do anything.


Send issues and questions to maggiedurran@virginmedia.com.

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