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.
- Setting a precedent. The court would be very warery 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)
- 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  Court of Arches,
Church of England: Exhumation of Ashes
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