Heart-shaped memorial would be ‘inappropriate’

30 November 2018

Parents’ petition for a faculty is refused by diocesan chancellor

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Newly-made gravestones

Newly-made gravestones

HEARTS, stars, hand-prints, and footprints tended to over-sentimentalise memorials and were not permitted in a churchyard, the Chancellor of Manchester diocese, Geoffrey Tattersall QC, said when refusing a faculty for a memorial in the churchyard of St Saviour’s, a Grade II listed church in Ringley, near Bolton.

The petition for the faculty was brought by Natasha and Benjamin Bibby, the parents of baby Kai-Jay, who was stillborn on 23 September 2014. They wished to install a heart-shaped blue-pearl granite stone memorial on his grave with an inscription that included the words “Our beautiful Baby Boy. . . Born sleeping. . . Sleep tight Little Man”.

Surrounding the inscription and along the edge of the heart shape were stars and a heart, which were etched into the memorial. There was an alternative design that incorporated handprints and footprints. It was also proposed that the inscription on the base of the memorial should read: “I carried you every second of your life. I will love you every second of mine”.

The Team Rector, the Revd Carol Pharaoh, declined to consent to the memorial because she did not have delegated authority under the Diocesan Churchyard Regulations to approve it, and she advised the parents to apply for a faculty.

There were three other heart-shaped memorials in the churchyard, although they did not comply with the Regulations. Paragraph 2.2.18 of the Regulations, however, states that “the mere fact that another memorial has been erected in breach of these Regulations is not a good reason for allowing another such item that does not comply with these Regulations. . . An incumbent is not bound by decisions of previous incumbents which contravene these Regulations.”

The Churchyards Handbook (fourth edition) states that “shapes that may be common in municipal cemeteries such as a heart or open book . . . have been discouraged by Church authorities as alien to the churchyard setting and as liable to be trivialised by repetition.”

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The Chancellor said that churchyards must be treated and cared for in a manner consistent with their consecrated status, and the Consistory Court had “an important responsibility to ensure that what is placed in our churchyards is both fitting and appropriate, and the Regulations are important in fulfilling such responsibility.”

Kai-Jay’s parents said that the heart was a symbol of love, and that they did not believe that there would be any issue with the shape since there were other heart-shaped memorials in the churchyard.

The Chancellor accepted that the heart was a symbol of love, but said that that was not “a good and substantial reason which would justify [his] granting a faculty for something which is not sanctioned by the Regulations”.

Given the limited number of heart-shaped memorials in the churchyard, the Chancellor said that they should not dictate, expressly contrary to paragraph 2.2.18 of the Regulations, that the proposed heart-shaped memorial should be authorised. To grant the faculty would also be unfair to those who had erected memorials to conform with the Regulations, and who would have preferred to erect a memorial which did not conform to the Regulations.

Heart-shaped memorials had been historically discouraged, and were liable to be trivialised by repetition, the Chancellor said. And stars, hearts, hand-prints, and footprints would over-sentimentalise the memorial in a way that was undesirable and unnecessary, and would be inappropriate in this churchyard. Therefore the faculty was refused.

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