Churchyards are special places which exist for both the living and the dead. Together with the church building they 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 or by contacting a member of the Church Buildings Department on email@example.com.
Diocese of Ely Churchyards Training Day
The Diocese of Ely Church Buildings & Pastoral Department held a Churchyards training Day in November 2021. The day brought together a wide range of expertise to help churches to understand the rules governing the management of churchyards, and also the increasingly important roles churchyards play in environmental sustainability.
Presentations from the day can be downloaded below.
- Churchyard History and Archaeology
- Churchyard Regulations and Grave Reservations
- Churchyard Trees
- Churchyard Wildlife Conservation
- Churchyards as an Opportunity for Mission
- Comberton Churchyard Compartments Legend
- Comberton Churchyard Compartments Plan
- Comberton Churchyard Project
- National Burial Grounds Survey
Guidance and Rules governing the upkeep of Churchyards
Guidance to Families and Next of Kin
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.
- Practice Direction - Reservation of a Gravespace - 20 Feb 2021
- Further information is available from the Diocesan Registry.
Maintenance of churchyards including churchyards closed for burials
All consecrated 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.
The responsibility for maintenance of a churchyard following its 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 (the Act). The Parish Council may in turn transfer the responsibility to the District Council.
A short guide to determining whether a specific churchyard is closed for burial and the process for transferring the maintenance responsibility to the Parish or District Council can be found below under the title Churchyards – closure evidence and transfer of maintenance responsibility.
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. [Whilst responsibility for maintenance can be transferred to the Parish or District Council it should be noted that ownership of the Churchyard is not transferred and remains with the Incumbent.] Detailed guidance on closed churchyards including the responsibilities for and scope of maintenance, and the liability for personal injury accidents within the churchyard is provided in the following legal opinion: Legal Opinions concerning the Church of England.
Some Parish/ District Councils take a comprehensive approach to their maintenance obligation whilst others interpret this responsibility very loosely, in that they assume responsibility for maintenance of the churchyard but not its gravestones, walls and lychgates. However, in determining its approach, the relevant Council should be mindful of the Act, the Legal Opinion and its liability for personal injury accidents as ‘occupier’ of the churchyard. The PCC would be wise to bring potential hazards to the attention of the Council. The Council should consult with the PCC on planned maintenance activities and seek PCC support for any major works.
Regardless of whose responsibility it is to maintain the churchyard, it will remain subject to Faculty Jurisdiction. Permission will also need to be sought in respect of works to be done to the Churchyard falling outside matters under the Faculty Jurisdiction Rules 2015, which would cover both safety or topple testing of the monuments, and repairs to damaged monuments. The following guidance published by the Diocesan Registry in respect of the application of Faculty jurisdiction to churchyards may be useful.
Faculty approval can be sought through the Church of England Online Faculty System. It is recommended that the body that has maintenance responsibility for the churchyard register with the Online Faculty System as an applicant for the parish church with which the churchyard is associated to initiate and facilitate approvals. For Councils with more than one churchyard under its management, it will be necessary to request application status for multiple churchyards by emailing the DAC at DAC@elydiocese.org .
Churchyards – closure evidence and transfer of maintenance responsibility
Orders for Closure under the Burial Acts are issued by the Privy Council on the application of the Coroners Officer (now part of the Ministry of Justice). The Ministry of Justice maintains a list of churchyards that have been closed for burials by Order in Council. Information on whether a churchyard has been closed, and if so evidence of its closure can be sought by email to firstname.lastname@example.org providing details of the parish church and the location of the churchyard.
The responsibility for maintenance of a churchyard following its closure under the Burial Acts 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 (the Act). Section 215 (2) of the Act sets out the process for transferring responsibility to the Parish Council. If the PCC decides to transfer responsibility for maintenance of the churchyard to the local authority and can find no evidence that this has not already been done, it should pass a resolution to that effect and then serve a written request on the Parish Council to take over maintenance of the churchyard. The PCC should ensure the churchyard is in good order before giving the notice as the Parish Council can require remedial works to be undertaken before taking on the responsibility.
On receipt of the notice from the PCC, under Section 215 (3) of the Act, the Parish Council then has three months in which to serve notice on the District Council to pass the maintenance responsibility to the District Council. That notice must be copied to the PCC. Once the relevant notice period has expired the Parish Council or the District Council becomes legally responsible for maintenance of the churchyard and liable as ‘occupier’ for personal injury accidents within the churchyard and is responsible for ensuring adequate insurance cover is held. The Parish or District Council which assumes responsibility can contract the PCC to maintain the churchyard and its contents on the Council’s behalf, but it would need to cover the costs of doing so.