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Remains of stillborn child allowed to be re-interred with mother

18 September 2020

Creative Commons/Irid Escent

Lambeth Cemetery

Lambeth Cemetery

THE Consistory Court of the diocese of Southwark granted a petition for the exhumation of the remains of a stillborn child from a consecrated grave in Lambeth Cemetery, where they had been interred in 1998, so that they could be re-interred elsewhere in the cemetery with his mother, who died in June this year.

Crusoe Armstrong was the stillborn son of Ian Armstrong and his late wife, Sana. On 26 October 1998, Crusoe’s body was buried in a part of the cemetery reserved for the remains of children. Mrs Armstrong died on 29 June 2020, aged 50. Mr Armstrong says that his wife never forgot Crusoe, and would often speak of him, and he wants her to be buried with Crusoe so as to reflect the bond that she always felt with him.

Mr Armstrong has agreed to purchase a burial chamber elsewhere in the cemetery, where it would be possible for his wife’s body to be interred, and, at the same time, for Crusoe’s remains to be re-interred. His intention is that, in due time, he, too, should be buried there. The burial chamber is not consecrated; it differs from a burial plot in that it is already excavated.

Chancellor Philip Petchey said that there were factors that had led him to conclude that this was an appropriate case in which to make an exception to the norm of the permanence of Christian burial. Of particular relevance was the fact that Crusoe was stillborn, and that his parents would not, in 1998, have been expecting to make arrangements for their son’s burial.

The proposition against permitting exhumation was that there was nothing exceptional in the present circumstances, because, if Mr and Mrs Armstrong had wished in due course to be buried together with their infant son, they could have made appropriate arrangements in 1998. The Chancellor accepted that, but said that it was “surely a counsel of perfection”.

The last thing that they were probably thinking about in 1998 was their own deaths, the Chancellor said, and the interment of Crusoe’s remains in the children’s part of the cemetery would have seemed particularly appropriate and comforting. It did, however, close off the possibility of Mrs Armstrong’s being buried there.

Had Mrs Armstrong not died so young, Mr Armstrong might not have felt the same need to establish a family grave. He expected to be visiting the grave of his wife and Crusoe for many years in the future.

The Chancellor considered that the fact that the re-interment might be regarded as a rearrangement within the same churchyard or cemetery was important. It meant that this was not a “portable remains” case, where exhumation was sought to facilitate visiting a grave when relatives moved from the area in which the remains were interred. Consistory courts disapproved of “portable remains” cases. The Chancellor said that what was proposed by Mr Armstrong was “intrinsically more acceptable”.

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