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Priest in Kent desperate to solve puzzle of urn of ashes left anonymously in church

09 March 2018


The inside of St Mary’s, in St Mary in the Marsh, where an urn of ashes was left behind without explanation

The inside of St Mary’s, in St Mary in the Marsh, where an urn of ashes was left behind without explanation

A PRIEST in Kent has spoken of her “desperation” to track down the family of a woman whose ashes were anonymously left behind in one of the churches in her benefice last year.

The Revd Julie Coleman, the Priest-in-Charge of the Romney Marsh benefice, said that it was vital that whoever had left the urn of ashes in St Mary’s, in the village of St Mary-in-the-Marsh, near New Romney, came forward so that she could arrange a proper burial.

Ms Coleman’s churchwarden found the urn, together with a single pink carnation, in May last year, but enquiries with undertakers, the coroner, and the police have not yet revealed whom the ashes belong to.

The urn is labelled with the name Louisa C. Matthews, and states that she died on 31 August 2003. But, despite her best efforts, Ms Coleman has not been able to identify anyone of that name or any surviving family.

“I’m getting desperate,” she said on Tuesday. “Good endings are really important. I believe that God is a God of the living and the end, and we are called to look after all people. It’s time to put her to rest.”

Ms Coleman’s best guess is that someone stumbled across the ashes when they bought a new house, and did not know what to do with them, so left them at the church. “I have got a feeling that someone has found her, and thought the place to take people who are dead is the church. Or it’s a relative who cannot afford to inter the ashes. I think they left her with us because they know we will look after her.”

The church secretary, Jacqueline Alston, said that, after searching on genealogy websites, she did find someone with a very similar name to Louisa Matthews who died in Bangor, but the trail then went cold, because no Welsh undertakers had any record of her cremation.

Despite putting out an appeal in the local press, no one had come forward, Ms Alston said. “Nothing has come up locally yet; so the further afield it can go the better. We would just like to be able to put her to rest in our churchyard.”

Ms Coleman said that she was happy to pay for the cost of a plot and plaque, and to inter the ashes in St Mary’s churchyard, but that she could not do this without permission from whoever had left the urn last summer.

“I’m going to give it to the first of April, Easter Day. If someone has not claimed her by then, I will apply for a faculty to get permission to bury her,” she said. But she was still keen to unravel the mystery first, as part of her mission as parish priest.

“It couldn’t be easy to leave her there; so I want them to have peace with it as well. I think we all deserve a good ending. It’s the cure of souls. We are called to honour the legacy she left here.”

Anyone with any information is asked to contact Ms Coleman by phoning 01797 362308.

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