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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


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

  1. Reply
    Tracey Finch - 24th April 2024

    Id like to if I can have my husbands ashes removed for eldest son he hates where they have been put . On a walk way down the side of a church against the church wall .

    1. Reply
      Richard Martin - 29th April 2024

      Hi Tracey

      I would suggest contacting the church concerned as this may be quite tricky.

      Kind regards

  2. Reply
    Claire Schalch - 18th March 2024

    Hi Richard, l would like to remove my Dad’s ashes from a Church of England columbarium. He died 10 years ago. At the time we neither paid, nor signed a contract for him to be there. Is this allowed? Thanks

    1. Reply
      Richard Martin - 21st March 2024

      Hi Claire

      I have not heard of this before, did no one pay or? Or just not you? Columbarium are not supposed to be for storage in perpetuity. You get the ashes returned when the lease runs out.

      So I would suspect they would be fine with this, as they can reuse the niche. However I am not and ecclesiastical lawyer, so this is just my opinion.

      They may ask you to pay for use to that point but I don’t know…but probably not.

      I hope all goes well.

      Kind regards

  3. Reply
    Katie - 5th March 2024

    I am looking at whether ti si possible to exhume my father’s ashes. He died in 1983 but there is no record of what his ashes are in. Without this is is likely my request would be denied as we think deterioration of whatever he may have had his ashes put in, woudl make it too unstable to do?

    1. Reply
      Richard Martin - 8th March 2024

      Hi Katie
      Yes that could well be a factor and make it distressing for all concerned. Also the CofE rules for exhumation are extremely strict.

      Kind regards

  4. Reply
    Barry Sanderson - 22nd December 2023

    If the funeral directors have ceased using the office where ashes in consecrated land adjacent to the building can the land be used for other buildings or will the ashes remain there
    I have 5 members on this small plot of land and wonder who to ask what will happen

    1. Reply
      Richard Martin - 5th January 2024

      Dear Barry
      If the ground is consecrated with ashes on it will make planning more difficult to obtain – but not impossible.
      Kind regards

  5. Reply
    Ann Grant - 21st July 2023

    My husbands committal was in April 2022. I have now been told that I arelative is saying it is where one of his ancestors is buried, and now he wants to erect a headstone.

    The Church has no record of such a burial so if correct it must be historic.

    I have a foot stone there and plan to join him one day.

    Can this family take precedent ?

    1. Reply
      Richard Martin - 4th August 2023

      Dear Ann

      If the church have no records how are they basing the claim? I suspect ou may have strong claim – but you would need to contact a solicitor who deals with Ecclesiastical law.

      Kind regards

  6. 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.

  7. 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

  8. 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

  9. Reply
    Mark Wood - 21st August 2021

    Is it possible to exhume a paupers grave for cremation

    1. Reply
      Greta Headley - 19th November 2023

      My Sister passed in 1991 at that time ashes Into glass did not exist so when my Mum passed In 2013 I kept some ashes and had a ring. My Dad has now passed and I.would like some ashes from my Sister and Mum to put them with Dad and have one ring. I have been told I cannot access the ashes from the columbarium is this law? I am the only person in our family and I intend to be buried. How can I arrange getting the ashes.

      1. Reply
        Richard Martin - 8th December 2023

        Hi Greta

        Who told you this? Have you spoken directly to the operator. Columbarium are considered to be permanent. But often have leases so they can’t be that permeant can they? Can you email us


  10. 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: Hope this of use let us know if you need contact details for a legal representative.

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