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Church of England rules on Exhumation of Ashes: what are Exceptional Circumstances

The Church of England considers the burial of ashes final. To get ashes removed from consecrated land is difficult if not impossible, you will need to demonstrate exceptional circumstances and navigate the very formal language used by the church.

Set out below is what you need to know.

You would need to get permission (known as a Faculty) from the Chancellor of the Diocese (who is the legal part of the church), they would look at a number of factors in making a decision. Basically there needs to be exceptional circumstances.

What might be considered exceptional:

  • A mistake – for example if someone was buried in the wrong plot or if the person was buried on consecrated ground but was not of the Christian faith (such as a Buddhist), it is not enough to say they were lapsed.
  • Family Grave – this could be grounds for exhumation if there was a family plot in existence and it was the intention that the family should all be there.

What would not be considered exceptional i.e. if something could have been reasonably foreseen:

  • Change of mind, if you have had a change of heart and want them elsewhere.
  • Deteriorating health for example if a surviving spouse wishes to move to be with relatives and wishes to take the ashes with them.

Other factors:

  • Setting a precedent. The court would be very warey about setting a precedent that undermines the general presumption against exhumation.
  • Time, generally speaking the longer the ashes have been buried the more difficult there are to have exhumed.
  • Support, you would need the agreement of close relatives. However support from the wider community including friends or members of the clergy would normally be disregarded.

So if you think you have grounds for exhumation you will need get a special form of Faculty Petition which used for an application for exhumation, these are obtained from Diocesan Registrar. A Diocesan Registrar is held at the Diocesan office (the diocese is name for an area of land under the jurisdiction of the local bishop – the rector or cemetery manager should be point you in the right direction or you can have a look at this map of the different diocese in England , or go to Diocesan Registry)

More resources:

  • Here is a list of case studies and examples of what constitutes ‘exceptional circumstances’ (and what does not) – exhumation.
  • The law relating  to exhumation is set out in the leading case of (this note has been put together by the diocese of Norwich) Blagdon Cemetery [2002] Court of Arches,

Church of England: Exhumation of Ashes


9 thoughts on “Church of England rules on Exhumation of Ashes: what are Exceptional Circumstances

  1. Reply
    Audrey. Cox - 8th May 2022

    My Fathers ashes are in a metal urn interred in 1970 now my Mother has passed I as next of kin and sole Excecutor want to relocate Fathers ashes to be interred with Mother’s in her family cemetery .

    1. Reply
      Richard Martin - 19th May 2022

      This may prove very difficult Audrey, particularly if the ashes were interred on consecrated ground.

  2. Reply
    Susan clifton - 16th February 2022

    Can my dads ashes be removed from a family plot when one of the family have taken over he deeds to the plot and removed the headstone

    1. Reply
      Richard Martin - 16th February 2022

      Dear Susan
      In consecrated ground it would be almost impossible (unless exceptional circumstances), on a council run cemetery it would be difficult. However this is a specialised subject, if means allow I would contact a specialist solicitor we use Shoosmiths
      Sorry this is beyond my level of knowledge.
      Kind regards

  3. Reply
    Janet - 24th December 2021

    Would you be able to exhume ashes if a family member has discovered where an estranged family member has been buried?

    1. Reply
      Richard Martin - 4th January 2022

      Hi Janet
      I will try to help, but I am not quite sure what you are asking? Do you want to remove someone because they are no longer connected with the family?
      Many thanks

  4. Reply
    Mark Wood - 21st August 2021

    Is it possible to exhume a paupers grave for cremation

  5. Reply
    Tracey - 8th July 2021

    Can someone please help me and direct me to someone who can advise me ? I need to exhume whatever might be left in the ground where my dads ashes are buried.
    Thank you

    1. Reply
      Richard Martin - 12th July 2021

      Dear Tracey
      This is the main section for exhumation of ashes: https://scattering-ashes.co.uk/help-advice/exhumation-of-ashes/ Hope this of use let us know if you need contact details for a legal representative.

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