A village church is facing a crisis that most churches must face but is seldom discussed; it has ran out of burial space.
Built in 1300, North Aston’s St Mary the Virgin Church’s grounds saw their last available plot occupied last year and now have the unenviable, but necessary, task of removing headstones to future proof it for the next 50 years.
Rev Marcus Green, vicar for the past five years, said: “One of the problems you’ve got is when a churchyard is full you can close it, but if we close it people in this village have nowhere to be buried, so we want to keep it open.”
There are strict protocols and legal processes the CofE church has to go through in order to move head stones.
The church must be able to show the grave sites have not been used within 100 years and the potential movement of the grave stones is made public.
For 27 of the proposed sites this has been a relatively simple task as each gravestone represents its own irrefutable documentation of the date of the death it commemorates.
The process is common and one St Mary has gone through before.
Rev Green said: “What churchyards do is do something called over-burying, you reuse the churchyard.
“Historically this churchyard has had this done several times already. This church dates to 1300 so these aren’t the only people that have ever been buried here.”
If approved by the Diocese, removal will begin around Easter with just one row removed at a time and then filled so as not to alter the look or feel of the church with mass removal.
The headstones will be kept on site and many previously moved stones can be seen to line the outer wall of the churchyard, allowing descendants a place to mourn.
The preferred alternative, however, is to re-use the unmarked, headstone free burial sites but there is a problem with that plan and one the reverend is asking the publics help with.
Rev Green said: “Over the other side we have graves with no head stones. If you have no head stones but you have records you can reuse them.
“The problem is we have no records, so we don’t know if they have been used within the last 100 years.
“Getting permission to over bury them when you don’t know is really hard.
He added: “So we have two plans, plan A is to move the headstones, the ones we know. Plan B is use these graves without stones. If we can show they are over 100 years old, somehow, then using this area is preferable.”
Church Warden Clive Busby has been painstakingly researching the histories of 25 unmarked grave sites, but information is scarce.
Rev Green said: “The problem is is if that was your aunty buried there and we reuse it and you come back and find somebody else’s headstone on there your not going to be thrilled but there’s no way we can track you down.”
If you can help with information visit www.sntchurch.com.