A BEREAVED mother has set up an online petition after clashing with churchyard regulationsfor a headstone in the design of a princess’s castle to be placed over the grave of her daughter, Alycia McKee.
Ms McKee, who was born with Down’s syndrome, died from multiple organ failure at the age of 18, last year, and was buried at St Margaret and St Andrew, Littleham, in north Devon. Her mother, Penni Hall, was told by the diocese that she could not decorate the grave with the princess headstone because it “falls outside” churchyard regulations of the C of E.
A spokeswoman for the diocese of Exeter said that the Team Vicar, the Revd Benedict Cambridge, “has been supporting the family after the tragic loss of their daughter, and has discussed the headstone with them for Alycia’s grave.
“He had hoped that a way forward had been found, but, as the existing design falls outside churchyard regulations, it will need to be referred to the diocese for consideration.”
C of E regulations state that “the distinctive character of a churchyard will be preserved and that anything placed in it will be of good design and in harmony with the surroundings.”
Guidance from the diocese of Exeter states: “The erection of a memorial over a grave remains a privilege, and strictly speaking, no memorial may be erected in a churchyard without the authority of the Chancellor of the diocese in the form of a faculty.”
It goes on to state that, in cases of “individually designed or hand-crafted” monuments, this responsibility is delegated to the Archdeacon, who, with the consent of the parish priest and agreement of the diocesan advisory committee, “may permit or refuse its design should it not conform to regulations”.
Ms Hall has since set up an online petition, which has accrued more than 3000 signatures, in a bid to overturn these regulations. She writes that the Church needs to “get with the times” and accept a headstone that will reflect the “colourful personality” of her daughter, who was buried in her tiara.
“Churchyards don’t have to be depressing, grey, boring places,” she writes.
A spokeswoman for Exeter diocese said that the regulations “exist in order to keep them as places of peace and beauty for everyone to enjoy.
“A memorial that might be suitable for an urban, civic cemetery may look out of place near a historic church building. The diocese has a responsibility to make sure that the churchyard remains an appropriate setting for a parish church for the next several hundred years.”
She went on: “We very much want to work with the family to ensure that a headstone marking Alycia’s life can be placed on her grave, and will last as a fitting memorial for many generations.”
The case has been handed over to the diocesan advisory committee for consideration.