Historic Churches 2020

30 BCD SPECIAL REPORT ON HISTORIC CHURCHES 27 TH ANNUAL EDITION BURIALS IN CHURCHES Ruth Nugent M ANY CHURCHES have human remains interred within the building, particularly if built before 1850, and in some cases a complex network of burials may lie beneath their floors. It is therefore important that everyone involved in church conservation is aware of the changing practices that occurred over the years, as this will inform our understanding of the history of the building and the causes of defects in the fabric that may arise. It may also help us to avoid the unintended consequences of ill-informed interventions. This brief overview outlines general spatial patterns of burials and monuments inside churches in broadly chronological order, summarising the key periods and events which have caused so many bodies, tombs and memorials to be relocated or removed entirely. 11th and 12th CENTURIES Until the 11th century, only saints, royals and clergy were usually buried inside churches, with most people interred in minster and parish churchyards. However, during the 10th to 12th centuries, wealthy landowners began building private chapels which gradually led to the development of their own cemeteries. It was the Normans who popularised monastery burials in the 12th century to benefit from the monks' constant prayers on behalf of the dead, a service which minsters and parish churches were rarely able to offer. Monasteries, especially high status abbeys, remained the most prestigious indoor burial sites until the late 13th century, with some elite individuals being exhumed and relocated indoors, in a bid to underline their status. High ranking lay people, abbots, senior clergy, founders, patrons and donors of large gifts of land or money were usually buried in the monastery’s chapter house or cloisters, as burial inside the monastic church was limited to saints and exceptional individuals. Cloister burials in particular created a surge in grave slabs decorated with a simple cross, and for the elite, effigy tombs appeared in the mid- 12th century. Often these were empty with the burial beneath the floor. Monumental brasses began to be used for bishops’ burials in the 1270s–1280s, and where an effigy tomb was deemed a physical impediment, brasses could be inserted into processional routes or next to shrines. Unfortunately, few of these early brasses now survive. 13th and 14th CENTURIES Despite a few late 12th century examples, lay burials did not really move indoors until the mid-13th century. While the chancel was reserved for clergy burials, parishioners could be buried in the nave, transepts and side-chapels. In the 1320s–1330s, the gentry began placing their tombs inside recesses or wall niches within the church. An interesting development in the 14th century saw parish churches and cathedrals allowing Memorials painted onto walls were an alternative to sculptures, although fewer survive and some maybe retrospective memorials. This example is at St Alban’s Cathedral.