Churchyards and Memorials

The Churchyard Regulations for the Diocese of Ely have recently been revised and the new Regulations and accompanying guidance are effective from 1 November 2017 – see the links below.

Churchyards are special places which exist for both the living and the dead. They together with the church building are vested in the Incumbent, and as consecrated ground they are set apart for the reverent and Christian burial of parishioners.

Because they are shared spaces, churchyards need to be looked after for the benefit of today’s generations as well as those to follow. The Churchyard Regulations seek to encourage good practices in order to create and maintain a place of peace, dignity and respect for the departed.

There is no automatic or legal right to place a memorial in a churchyard. The authority here rests with the Chancellor of the Diocese, who has granted delegated powers to incumbents and parish priests (i.e. rectors, vicars, priests in charge and team vicars), who have the discretion to allow memorials into their churchyards which are consistent with the Diocesan Churchyard Regulations. During a vacancy, this authority is exercised by the rural dean.

Any departure from the Churchyard Regulations requires permission by way of a faculty. Further information can be found on the Diocesan Registry’s website here: http://www.elydiocesanregistry.co.uk/faculty-jurisdiction/memorials or by contacting a member of the Church Buildings Department: dac@elydiocese.org.

Reservation of grave spaces

Parishioners (and others who die in the parish) have a right of burial in the churchyard of the parish church if one exists and has not been closed. The incumbent also has discretion to grant permission for the burial of other persons in the churchyard.

The incumbent also has the right to decide where in the churchyard a particular burial or internment may take place, except where a specific place has been formally reserved. A grave space may be reserved by faculty. Further information is available from the Diocesan Registry here: http://www.elydiocesanregistry.co.uk/faculty-jurisdiction/graves.

Maintenance of churchyards

All churchyards belonging to parish churches are subject to the Faculty Jurisdiction. A PCC is responsible for the maintenance of churchyards which remain open for burials. Closed churchyards may remain the responsibility of the PCC or it may have been transferred to the Parish Council.

The responsibility for maintenance of a churchyard following closure by Order in Council under the Burial Act 1855 remains with the PCC unless and until it gives notice to transfer the responsibility to the Parish Council under section 215 of the Local Government Act 1972 http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1972/70/section/215.

Three months after notice is given, the Parish Council becomes legally responsible for maintaining the churchyard, unless it gives notice under the Act to the District Council, requiring the District Council to take over the responsibility, which it will then have to do. Either the Parish or the District Council could contract the PCC to maintain the Churchyard and its ‘contents’ on its behalf, but they would need to cover the costs of doing so.

Whichever body has the responsibility may find this guidance published by the Diocesan Registry useful: http://www.elydiocesanregistry.co.uk/faculty-jurisdiction/churchyards, and also this guidance issued by the Ministry of Justice: http://www.elydiocese.org/files/6514/4292/3613/safety-burial-grounds.pdf

Once responsibility has been transferred, the Parish or District Council will have the same responsibility for maintaining the churchyard, and by implication its walls, gates, fences, grass, trees, etc., as the PCC had prior to the giving of notice to transfer responsibility. Some Parish/ District Councils interpret this responsibility very loosely, in that they assume responsibility for maintenance of the churchyard but not its gravestones, walls and lychgates. Others are more willing to take a more comprehensive approach.

Regardless of whose responsibility it is to maintain the Churchyard, it will remain subject to the Faculty Jurisdiction, so permission will need to be sought in respect of works to be done to the Churchyard falling outside “List A” matters under the Faculty Jurisdiction Rules 2015, which would cover both safety or ‘topple’ testing of the monuments, and repairs to damaged monuments.

In advance of any works being undertaken, you should please email dac@elydiocese.org with details and photographs.