Churchyard Headstone guidelines

If you are considering a burial in a churchyard you need to be aware of certain rules and guidelines that exist within the Anglican church regarding memorials, as this may affect your decision.

Permission to erect a memorial is granted by the Chancellor of the Diocese and may be sought by submitting an application form to the incumbent (Stonewriters will do this on your behalf). Unless there are exceptional circumstances the application cannot be submitted before six months since the date of burial.

Over the years the memorial regulations have changed, therefore what already exists in a churchyard will not necessarily be a guide to what is currently permitted. It should be noted that the Chancellor may well instruct the removal of a memorial which does not conform to the regulations.

As a guide, memorials must conform to a size which does not exceed 107cm (3ft 6ins) in total height, 76cms (2ft 6ins) in width and 102mm (4ins) in thickness. The type of stone chosen must be from an approved list, must not be reflective and should be as harmonious as possible with the church building. Stonewriters are happy to advise you and will also be able to discuss the merits of each type with regard to wear characteristics and suitability for your chosen design.

Consideration should be given to the inscription. Full names must be used and wording must be consistent with Christian belief in life after death. An appropriate quotation from the Bible can be used and all inscription wording is to be agreed with the incumbent. You may suggest wording which describes the best in the life or character of the person to be commemorated. You may be permitted to use any Christian symbol including a small cross, a Bible or the Icthus sign. Alternatively you may be permitted to use a single flower, a spray of flowers or other plant such as ears of corn. Permission may also be given for the use of an emblem of one of the armed forces (providing there is entitlement).

It is recommended that you take advice on design and take time in researching various options. The intention should be to commemorate and celebrate the life of the deceased and as an expression of optimism for life after death. A churchyard memorial should not be used as an expression of personal loss or grief.

The church is keen to promote individuality in the choice of memorial and inscription and where proposed designs fall outside of the incumbent's remit, designs can be submitted for special permission known as Faculty.

The difference between Churchyards & Cemeteries

Are churchyards and cemeteries the same thing?

No, there are big differences between Church of England churchyards and local authority run cemeteries when it comes to installing memorials; the rules and regulations differ considerably.

A churchyard is land owned by the Church and usually adjoins a church building.  Most Church of England churches are listed building and this is why it is desirable for headstones to be in sympathy with the building and general surroundings. It is often enclosed with a definitive boundary such as a hedge or wall. Church laws apply to churchyards and may differ only slightly throughout the UK. Burial in a churchyard is open to all members of the parish, providing there is still space available - but interestingly the installation of a headstone over a grave remains a privilege and permission must be sought from the Church in each individual case by way of an application.

Cemeteries (from Greek meaning 'sleeping place') are usually owned by Local Authorities (Town Councils or Parish Councils for example). There is often a building within the grounds which may resemble a chapel or place of worship, but this is not to be confused with a church. Anyone can apply to be buried here as most are open to all faiths and beliefs. Regulations relating to the size and design of headstones are often less restrictive than churchyards, although permission for a headstone must still be sought from the relevant Local Authority. Stonewriters will make the necessary applications on your behalf and are able to advise on regulations and what is permissible.

Churchyard Regulations....

The following are just some of the regulations laid down by the Church which are steadfast for both practical and traditional reasons, but are by no means exhaustive:

Inscriptions must be compatible with the Christian religion

Stones must be non-reflective sometimes referred to as honed (i.e. they must not be polished or shiny)

Kerb-sets are no longer permitted

One flower vase only may be incorporated into the base of the headstone

Ceramic photo plaques are not permitted and designs may not be (paintilly) coloured

The regulations governing the design and appearance of a headstone for a churchyard are often perceived as restrictive and confusing by grieving loved ones, but certain regulations can and sometimes are overcome by applying for special permission which is known as a 'Faculty'. Indeed 'artistic creativity is positively encouraged' by the Church by way of Faculty. Over the years the regulations have changed, and it is worth noting that although there may be polished memorials (for example) in your local churchyard, permission for them would not be granted today, and the Church retains the right to remove any memorials which breach their rules.

Cemetery Regulations....

These vary throughout the country and permission must be sought from the relevant Local Authority (usually a Town or Parish Council). Cemetery regulations generally allow more freedom of expression in design, size, type and colour of stone than those permitted in a churchyard.

A good Monumental Mason will listen carefully to your wishes and advise you accordingly. A fitting memorial should aim to reflect and capture the unique qualities of your loved one.