The churchyard at St Mary’s Billingshurst was legally closed in the 1960s by order of the Privy Council. There have been no full burials since then, except where it has been possible to reopen an existing grave. For some years following the legal closure ashes have been interred in parts of the churchyard. In fact, the areas used have been on top of other graves where, over time, the memorial has disappeared, allowing the appearance of a grassy area.
No new spaces for burials – the burial of a coffin, or the interment of ashes – can be created. Burials of coffins, or of ashes, can only take place by opening an existing grave.
A place of peace
Many people find an English churchyard a place of peace and comfort. It is a place of rest for the remains of the departed, a Christian burial ground for generations.
The churchyard is a place of natural peace and beauty where people can be still and reflect. For those who are grieving over the loss of a loved one, the churchyard can bring some solace, where they can remember, at their own pace, and aided by the tranquillity and reminders of hope that the church setting brings. From the earliest times Christians have found strength and hope for daily living in the hope of Our Lord’s resurrection, witnessed first by Mary Magdalene in a garden.
After a burial
Fresh cut flowers in a sunken vase or small annual plants may brighten up the grave in the early days. A few spring bulbs may be sown. But, of course, it is not a plot to be cultivated by the planting of trees or shrubs, or extended in any way beyond the memorial stone itself (or actual grave where larger). (The plot remains the property of the church). There is an outside tap by the church.
Artificial flowers are not permitted apart from Remembrance Poppies or Christmas wreaths. Withered and artificial flowers will be removed to preserve the freshness of the churchyard.
Please note that the introduction of mementos to a grave such as figures of animals, angels, birdbaths, toys or photos of the deceased is not permitted, because it changes the character of the area, and it can make it difficult for others to grieve whose loved ones are buried nearby.
Cutting the grass is a heavy burden for the Parochial Church Council and church members (all of whom are volunteers!). Safety and convenience rule against chippings, kerb stones and railings around graves, and there are rules about vases, which are best if unbreakable and sunken in the ground or in a socket in the base of the headstone.
What memorial can I have?
The Vicar will be pleased to advise what memorials are permitted in a churchyard. Memorials such as headstones at the head of a grave or flat tablets where ashes have been buried can be authorised by the Vicar if they comply with certain conditions; size, colour, shape and inscription.
Permission will not normally be given for certain stone material that will not engrave satisfactorily, or for an angled open-book memorial whose inscription may soon be eroded by the rain. Black granite, marble or highly polished stone usually look out of place in Sussex.
If the next of kin would like something more original or creative as a memorial stone, this is to be welcomed as appropriate, and the Vicar will be pleased to advise on how to apply for a Faculty, which is a legal document giving specific authorisation. The proposed memorial will need to be fitting for the churchyard setting, honouring the dead, offering comfort to the living and informing those who follow. Not everything that can be seen in a municipal cemetery will be suitable for a Sussex churchyard.
Applying for a Faculty will involve consultation and a fee and can take some time.
In order to pass on this heritage of rest and comfort for future generations, permission has to be obtained for burials and memorials, and indeed for everything that is introduced into a churchyard. In this respect a churchyard is different from a local authority cemetery. Talk to the Vicar about your wishes; he will be pleased to help you with the regulations for burials or memorials, which are there to preserve the special character of the churchyard for the benefit of all, now and into the future.
[All who live in the parish are entitled to be buried in the churchyard, but only if there is a suitable existing (family) grave which can be re-opened].For further details please contact the church office or see the Chancellor’s General Directions on Churches and Churchyards 2015 in particular, see sections 6.2,3 and Appendix D.