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July 14 2008

Tony Head fights plan to build chapel over grave of his grandmother. Hampshire's St John the Baptist Church intends to extend chapel on top of five graves, one of which is his grandmother, Peggy Head.

Thanks for posting this, Whedonage. I left a comment.

Personally, the comments being made about why this chapel is being considered really don't make sense. As someone else pointed out - what's the big deal with lighting a memory candle in front of others? And...if a room is part of a church and isn't sacred...ummm...what?
I agree, ShadowQuest. It all reads as nonsensical and foggy-brained.
I'm confused as well why an expansion is necessary for this church. If it was because the congregation was so large they couldn't all fit in the church on Sunday... maybe. But so people can light candles without people seeing?
It's not that great of a news article overall. I imagine there's more to the story than the one candle incident described.
Maybe the Canon means a place people can go to be more private during a service ? In small village churches as this appears to be it's not that unusual for the doors to be locked when services aren't taking place and if I was the kind of person that lit candles for the dead, I wouldn't want to walk past a full congregation in the middle of a church service to do it.

That said, if there're still living relatives that are likely to visit the grave then it also seems fair to give them somewhere to actually go. Maybe ASH could use some of his visibility to help raise money to move the graves slightly ? Seems like the sort of compromise the vicar might go for and if the chapel really would bisect the graves then it's only a matter of a few feet (and in actual fact, this happens fairly often with older graves - they're built over and just the headstones moved slightly. After all, over centuries the coffin/remains are very unlikely to still be directly under the 6 x 3 area right in front of the headstone).
Different parts of churches have different "feels" to them. A chapel feels different from a big church -- more intimate, more private, with fewer people around, so if you think you might get emotional lighting a candle and praying for someone, you might feel more comfortable in a little chapel than a big church, especially one that regularly has people. I've been in one Episcopalian church where the candle lighting spots are so small you can't fit a dozen people in -- they're like little alcoves off a little chapel below a huge cathedral.

I don't know what a church room is, but it might be like a little auditorium where congregants go for coffee and cake after a service, to chat -- not the kind of environment where one would necessarily feel like kneeling and praying.

Of course, the Heads' feelings about their relative's grave are also important. Although the priest has a point that in their theology the grave is the resting place for the body, not the soul, graves are sacred places, too, to which people become attached and which they do not like to see disturbed.

It seems to me like the kind of conflict in which neither side is wrong and both have legitimate interests.
It's not all thta unusual (size, age, and denominational background all being variable drivers here) for a church building to include, in addition to the sanctuary, one or more subsidiary chapels which are designed like and sanctified as worship areas but are much smaller. (For example, the church I attend uses the Chapel rather than the Sanctuary for Thanksgiving Eve Services.) It has a different atmosphere from doing something in a vacant office or Sunday School classroom.

I'd hope there's room for a compromise plan here, but I'm no architect.
I don't know what a church room is, but it might be like a little auditorium where congregants go for coffee and cake after a service, to chat ...

Yeah Pointy it sounds like what we (when churchgoers and me were still a 'we' ;) used to call the church hall and that's exactly what it was used for, a sort of "decompression chamber" where people could catch up after the service, have a cuppa and a biscuit, talk about upcoming jumble sales or fetes etc. It's definitely much more a functional place, more where you'd lay out tables of arts and crafts for a fund-raising drive than quietly remember your dead loved one.

Ultimately of course, we don't really have enough information to judge but I also hope some sort of middle ground can be found. Seems unlikely that the Canon just decided on the basis of one guy that couldn't light a candle that she'd then set about getting approval and finance for major church renovations so there's probably a legitimate need. On the other hand, ASH also has a legitimate claim (he does say the graves thing is only "part of" their objection to the chapel so there's probably a lot more to it).

ETRemove an 's'. Was buggin' me.

[ edited by Saje on 2008-07-14 23:01 ]
This comment just boggles my brain: "On one hand, I understand that the children of this woman may want to visit this grave occasionally and have grown attatched to it after all these years. On the other, this woman has been dead for almost 90 years; in my personal opinion it's long past time to let go of the remnants."

That's so not the point! It's not just Tony and his family worried about the grave of Peggy Head - it's all the families and loved ones worried about all the graves. Tony's just...noticeable.

And so what if she's been gone for "almost 90 years"? Does that make it all right to destroy her grave? Are her family and friends supposed to just...shrug and say "Ok" and accept they won't have somewhere that has personal meaning for them to pay their respects? How long is "long enough"? Do the kids born in the 90s who are taken to The Wall care how long ago those soldiers gave their lives? Or is it more the sense of pain and loss and awe they get from seeing that incredible monument? George Washington's been dead for a few hundred years. Should we tear down his monument to make a park?

Tony never had the chance to know his grandmother. And we don't know what his personal religious or spiritual beliefs are. But visiting her grave might be a way for him to feel...connected. Her name, date of birth and date of death are carved in that stone, giving them a sense of permanent reality.

And, like I said in my comment, many people visit gravesites to trace their family lineage. My parents were in Ireland years ago, and visited a few cemeteries to try tracing my father's roots. Church records get lost, burnt, flooded, eaten by moths or rodents; stones stand the test of time for many, many years. (There are still some readable from the 1800s.)

But I would be interested in getting more of both sides of this issue - who else is on Tony's side? Who else is on the side of the church? What are their arguments? etc.
I'd be truly amazed if they intended to totally remove the headstones ShadowQuest, more likely they'll take them down while building and then put them back as close to the actual graves as possible, so the "record" will remain. Dunno about the US but over here seeing headstones that are actually leaning against the outside of church walls is quite common, sometimes for that very reason (and sometimes because they've fallen over and no-one knows exactly where the plot actually is anymore).

A church near where I used to live (also in Hampshire by coincidence) had headstones still legible from the 1600s IIRC so they do last a long time under the right conditions (it's an old church, the original building was mentioned in the Domesday book and what's there now is partly 14th century).
Seems like there is a simple enough answer to me. ASH gets Joss to declare that he didn't officially endorse anything that Diane Webster has said or done. That means she's no longer Canon, right? ;)

Sorry, not really a joking matter, I know. Hopefully this can be sorted out to everyone's satisfaction. I'm far from being a religious person myself but, as others have said, I don't believe that anyone has the right to say that there is some sort of limit on how long a grave should be respected. 9 years or 90 years makes no difference if there are still people who visit the grave to show their respects. Very strange comment to make.
Saje: I'm not sure about ShadowQuest' s part of the country (which is, by Dead White European Male standards, a lot newer than my part) but it isn't that rare around here. One reason is at times the stones fall over and get mcved a bit and the recordsare no longer available, or thes tone itself is unreadable, as well as construction projects.)
Saje Well, I haven't been in any really huge cemeteries, but the two small ones near me (One in Elcho, where two of my grandparents & my uncle are interred, and the other in Summit Lake) don't have that problem. There isn't a church on either property, nor are there any crypts or mausoleums or other buildings to encroach.

I do know, from doing research for my Buffy fic "Espirit de Marie Laveau," that in New Orleans the bodies cannot be buried because the coffins would literally pop out of the ground during floods. And there are 42 cemeteries in New Orleans. So the dead are "buried" in vaults above ground, often "stacked" on top of each's a bit complicated to try to explain.

But my point is still - no one has the right to tell someone else how to worship or pay their respects, and by moving the headstones in order to expand a building they're doing just that.

Why is that the only available land for the extension? Can't it go off the back of the existing structure? Or to the right or left? Why does it have to bisect any graves? How many graves are affected, and what do the families/friends/loved ones feel about the choice?

Highlander Actually, I liked your lighter comment. Very...Xander of you. ;-)

And no, there isn't a "limit" on respecting the burial grounds of the desceased. Just ask any Native American tribe that's fought to keep said ground sacred, or to protect/get back any artifacts discovered during construction. Ancestors have been important throughout history, whether an individual (Alex Haley's "Roots" comes to mind) or a group. I support Tony and his parents, and all the other family members/friends/loved ones involved in this "battle." Hopefully a compromise can be reached that will satisfy both sides.
Can't it go off the back of the existing structure? Or to the right or left?

It may well be off the back/sides of the existing structure, small village chapels are rarely (in my experience) totally separate buildings to the main church, there just isn't the space (course it depends on how small the church is - it's hard to tell from the available photos).

This isn't intended to be patronising BTW, just a difference of perspective (because i've some idea of just how much space you guys have over there ;) but over here small village churches are often on very small plots of land, often about 1/4 to 1/2 of a football pitch, if that (which probably seemed like plenty back when the "village" was 3 houses, a pub and a smithy ;) with graves very close to the church building just because, over time, they've run out of room.

And i'd imagine (but like the rest of us don't know) that if there was a handy bit of land just sitting there next to the church that didn't require graves to be built over then they'd probably use that. And the article says five graves are affected.

(I know what you mean by vault/mausoleum BTW, we have above ground burials too with the coffin recesses stacked one atop the other though not usually in small churchyards where you might have single coffin aboveground vaults but not the big, grand family mausolea. Also, Buffy goes into one once or twice ;)

... but it isn't that rare around here.

Yeah i'd imagine it's a function of time DaddyCatALSO, as the graveyard fills, the requirements of the local area change and/or enough time passes for headstones to fall over and records to be lost the need arises to move markers for the reasons we mention.
Saje; Yes, I can imagine a century doesn't make much difference in many parts of Europe but here, well my area was settled at least that long before ShQ's.

I was thinking something like incorporating the disturbed graves into the chapel's outer wall or like that, with a marker there replacing the headstones.

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