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ashes exhumation C of E

Exhumation of ashes order not granted: plea not considered to be exceptional

ashes exhumation C of E© Copyright Oast House Archive

Previously we have reported on success stories where a family has managed to secure the approval for exhumation of ashes via the Church of England’s Consistory Court. We had pointed out exhumation orders on church consecrated land were rare. Here is a story from the news website KentOnline about a lady who wished to reunite her father’s ashes putting them in her mother’s grave. The judge refused to give permission as the circumstances were not deemed to be exceptional.

The petition was brought by Mrs Mills the daughter of Mr Morphett who passed away in 2000 aged 82. It was Mrs Mills’ mother wish, who died last December, that they should be together. Whilst the remains of both parents were in St Margaret’s church Horsmonden, they we not on the same plot.  As this was contrary to Mrs Mills mother’s wishes the family sought to move the ashes of their father so they could reside next to their mother.

Ms Mills also raised concerns about the state of the churchyard which appeared to be quite neglected.

poorly kept churchyard© KentOnline

In written submissions, she wrote: “My mother wished to be buried and my dad was cremated in 2000. I desire that they should be together, so that we can pay tributes together in one place.”

Sadly for the family the Chancellor ruled that Mr Morphett’s remains must stay where they are.

He said: “The norm is permanence in relation to Christian burial, and the norm can only be departed from if there are exceptional circumstances made out so as to justify departure from it. The burden of proof is on the petitioner to establish, on the balance of probabilities, exceptional circumstances.”

Ruling that Mrs Mills had failed to do so, he continued: “Distress or upset about the location of the interment of Mr Morphett’s cremated remains is not enough. All concerned knew at the time he was interred and where he was being interred. What thought Mrs Morphett may have given to her own burial and place of rest is unclear.

“Distress or upset about the area surrounding Mr Morphett’s cremated remains is not enough. Equally a desire that one’s parents ‘be together’, though understandable, is not enough.”

He said that when a “mistake” was made that could be regarded as a reason to grant a request for exhumation. But in this case he said that in this case, if there was any mistake, it related to a lack of thought as to what would happen in the future. 

And he added: “That is not enough.”

He continued: “I have little doubt that Mrs Mills and the family will be disappointed by my decision. I hope that in the light of this Judgment greater efforts will be made, where appropriate, to maintain the Churchyard, and I further hope that all concerned will recognise that Mr and Mrs Morphett’s remains are in reality, in close proximity, but that, more importantly, they have both been entrusted to God for resurrection.”

This is indeed sad, although as the judge points out not extraordinary. I suspect what may have happened is that whilst both parents wished to be buried on consecrated ground the father wanted to be cremated and the mother buried. When the father died they bought a small plot suitable for ashes perhaps not considering what would happen when the mother died. As the judge points out “All concerned knew at the time he was interred and where he was being interred. What thought Mrs Morphett may have given to her own burial and place of rest is unclear.”.  I am thinking when the family realised the consequences of this it was really too late. You can’t help but feel sorry for the family, decisions like choosing a grave can be made without the full facts or consideration of the future, in a time of significant distress. One would have hoped a polite word from a concerned party would have been appropriate, but who knows.

One last point that the judge ends on, which is perhaps in part the reason for the principal of exceptional circumstances is that if you are religious then one can draw solace from the fact you can entrust to God the resurrection of the soul, so the location of the body is of less relevance, again please feel free to contradict…

Original story:

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