Tuesday 6 December 2011

A Grave Concern - "digging up Uncle Charlie"

I had a wry smile at this report that appeared in the national press just over ten years ago in July 2001.Under the title


" THE Church of England is "seriously concerned" about an unprecedented rise in the number of people applying to exhume relatives' remains when they move house.
The Church says that "digging up Uncle Charlie" and reburying him near the new house has become "almost a fashion" over the past five years, with a sevenfold increase in exhumation requests in many parts of the country. The Ecclesiastical Judges Association, made up of diocesan chancellors who rule on local exhumation requests, said that there was a growing view that "exhumation on demand" was acceptable because burial had lost its "religious and moral significance" for many people.
Timothy Briden, the Chancellor of the Bath and Wells Diocese and the association's secretary, said: "We are very concerned about this trend. An alarming number of people seem to have lost the notion of the grave as the final resting place and see human remains as assets to be dug up and taken with them like any other possessions when they move house.
"This is a serious issue because, to the Anglican Church, interment is an important act that achieves finality, marking the end of the mortal life and the commitment of the soul to God."
Until as recently as five years ago, the number of exhumation requests from families was about "one or two cases per diocese", Mr Briden said. These were usually "highly exceptional cases" involving foreigners whose relatives wanted them reburied in their own country, or non-Christians whose families wanted a new funeral according to their faith.
In the past five years, however, the number of applications has risen to about 15 a year in many areas, with the biggest increases in London, Manchester, Birmingham, Sheffield, Chester and the Isle of Man. One application that was rejected recently came from a family who wanted a relative to be exhumed because she was next to the grave of a family they did not like.
The association has now drawn up guidelines reinforcing the Anglican view of burial and insisting that exhumation will not be allowed unless there is a strong case for it. If an exhumation is approved by the Diocesan Chancellor, a licence must then be sought from the Home Office. The grave is usually opened during the night. The coffin is disinfected and lime sprinkled around the grave to prevent the spread of disease.
Neil Cocking, the owner of Chelsea Funeral Directors, who has done several exhumations, said: "The original coffin is lifted out and put inside a larger coffin, which is sealed and transported by funeral directors to the new grave."
Clare Faulds, the Vicar-General on the Isle of Man, said that the rise was linked to increased mobility and a decline in religious faith. "People are not rooted to their local communities as much as they used to be. Far fewer people live and die in the same place, and that seems to have encouraged this sense that bodies can be moved around when people move house."

It appears that exhumations are on the increase much to the disapproval and chagrin of the Church of England. But the mere thought of increasing numbers of old corpses and cadavers being on the roads defies belief. Imagine if there was a delay, a breakdown or worse still an accident whilst the body was being transported to it's new "resting place." The consequences could be quite literally horrific!


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