Churchyard Guidelines

‘O, rest in the Lord’

A place of remembrance and quiet
Our churchyards are places where many people find peace and solace after the death of a loved one.  Many generations have cared for them and made them places of great tranquillity and harmony, from which we all benefit.  The Parish has a responsibility to ensure that any additions or alterations are in keeping with what has gone before, so that we can pass on the same beauty and benefit to future generations.

Rights of burial
If a church has a churchyard still open for burials, anyone who lived or died in the parish has the right to be buried there, or to have their ashes interred.  ‘Lived in the parish’ means someone who normally lived there, but who died elsewhere (for example, in hospital).

The need for regulations
Please remember that a churchyard is not a municipal cemetery, and that rules laid down by the Diocese of York govern what may or may not be erected in our churchyards.  While some of the regulations are for safety reasons, others are there to preserve the atmosphere of reverence and harmony with the Church that it surrounds.

It can be a problem that what already exists in a churchyard is not always a reliable guide to what is actually allowed.  Regulations change over the years, and this means that some existing memorials (sometimes known as ‘headstones’) are not necessarily within the present guidelines, and should not be assumed to be a precedent for what is now permitted.

Decisions about what may or may not be done in a churchyard are made by the Chancellor of the Diocese, who is a judge appointed by the Archbishop of York.  However, to make things quicker and simpler, the Chancellor allows the vicar of a parish to give permission for the erection of memorials and gravestones providing they fall within certain limits and rules which are summarised below.

It is most important to meet with the Rector to discuss any headstone or memorial before you visit a stonemason to commission the work.

You do not need to think about a memorial until well after the funeral. At least six months must elapse from the date of the death before permission can be given for a new headstone on a grave or a plaque over cremated remains.  This is for the practical reason that the disturbed ground must be given time to settle before any stone can be erected in safety. It also gives time to consider carefully the design and wording of something that will stand in the churchyard for many years.

The application for a memorial must be made to the Rector by the next of kin or the executor of the deceased.

Local stone
You will notice that the most recent headstones in our Churchyards (with the exception of Settrington Churchyard extension) are of what is commonly called ‘York Stone,’ a material from which our churches are built. The headstones thus blend with the Church and the surrounding countryside. In West Buckrose we now have legal protection so that only native British sandstone, limestone or slate may be used. These unpolished surfaces also encourage the growth of mosses and lichens that make many churchyards so mellow and attractive.

Cremation Burials
If you are having a cremation service, permission may be sought from the Rector for interment of the remains in a small plot in a Cremation Burial area in one of our churchyards. A short service takes place at the time of interment. The burial of ashes may be marked by a stone plaque no bigger than 18” x 18” laid down flat, and which conforms to the regulations with regard to shape, materials, finish and inscription. It is not permitted to scatter ashes in Church of England churchyards.

Wording and decoration on memorials
There are Diocesan guidelines for the wording on memorials, and for the size and suitability of any motif. Full details of these rules can be obtained from the Rector. The memorial usually includes the full name of the person buried in the churchyard and their dates of birth and death, or their date of death and age.

The headstone or tablet is a public memorial in the context of the consecrated ground of a churchyard – a quite different setting from a local authority cemetery, which is not consecrated.  The headstone or tablet will be read by many visitors to the churchyard over the coming years and is, primarily, a fitting public memorial to the person(s) buried.  For this reason, the wording is formal, referring to the person’s family relationships using ‘father’ or ‘mother’, ‘grandfather or ‘grandmother’ etc., rather than more familiar terms.  A suitable quotation from Scripture may be used.  Information about the person(s) buried concerning their occupation, or special connection with the particular Church in which the memorial stands (such as ‘Organist of this church for many years…’) may give historical details of interest.  Any motif on a memorial stone should depict a natural item such as a flower or bird, or a Christian symbol such as a cross.   

Churchyard maintenance
The care of churchyards embraces many aspects of life of great concern to people today, including concern for conservation and the environment, our heritage of historic buildings, and the need for places of quiet and solitude, where the mysteries of life, death and salvation may be contemplated.  Some of our churchyards are traditionally managed for their wildlife value, and are mown at appropriate times of the year to preserve wild flowers and butterflies.

The Churchyards are maintained by the Village Church Councils.  However, the cost of churchyard maintenance cannot be met by the fees of burial alone – we do not  receive any financial help from the local authority or wider church.  It is the responsibility of the families concerned to make their best endeavours to keep the grave in safe order and good appearance.  Individual graves are tended by the families and friends of those who rest there, who work in partnership with the VCCs to ensure that the churchyards continue to be places of reverence and beauty for all.

Flowers are encouraged on graves, but there are some rules to keep the churchyard looking well-managed and safe.  Flowers and wreaths must be removed as soon as they start to wither.  No artificial flowers may be used, except for Remembrance Day and Christmas wreaths.  Please remove these within two months.  Flower containers must be integral to the design of the memorial, not separate.  Trees or shrubs may not be planted on graves.

A summary of items which are not permitted because they are dangerous or out of keeping with the churchyard:
  • Glass or other breakable or sharp items.
  • Pictures, portraits or photographs.
  • Statues, birdbaths or ornaments.
  • Trees, shrubs or any plants into the soil.
  • Kerbs, railings or chains.
  • Artificial flowers (plastic, silk etc) except Remembrance poppies.
  • Memorials in the shape of a book, cross or heart.
  • Vases, unless incorporated into the headstone.

The Rector will be pleased to help you make any decisions about your choice of memorial or other matters concerning the churchyard.