Thoroughly modern woman – the world stops spinning on her command. With a swish of her finger she selects a new lover on her mobile; divorce, abortion, half his pension, she can dispense with him just as quickly. The legal system bends and sways in tune with her demands…most of the time. Just occasionally it stands up to her.
It was a surprise to me to find that it was the Church’s Consistory Court, the runt of the ecclesiastical court litter which has been systematically de-fanged and docked, if not defrocked, since the middle of the 19th century, which finally stood up to ‘Because I’m worth it’ modern woman.
These days the Consistory Court normally deals with with such exotic matters as whether the Vicar had the required permission to carpet over the Nave so that the ‘Saturday Hallelujah under-fives Creche’ can play Ducks and Drakes on the 12th century tiles without scraping their knees.
A Mr Osborne, accompanied by Mrs Osborne, worshipped at the Grade 11 listed St Gabriel’s in Walsall despite living some 35 miles away. St Gabriel’s is what you might call an active community Church. Built with money left by a former Vicar on farmland, it has since added a day centre for the aged, paid for by another incumbent; sheltered flats for the elderly and a hospice for sick children. All in the last 60 years. If you are going to support a particular church rather than a faith, St. Gabriel’s sounds like a worthwhile and understandable recipient of your support.
When Mr Osborne, after many years of supporting St Gabriel’s and acting as Churchwarden, died, he had left instructions that he was to be cremated and his remains buried in the churchyard there. He had long selected the plot that he wanted, ironically next to Mrs Osborne’s parents, with a space reserved for his wife next to him in due course. His wishes were carried out. Rest in Peace Terence Osborne.
However, the bereaved Mrs Osborne then decided that she wished to worship at ‘Our Lady of Lourdes’ at the end of her road…and she felt ’emotionally distanced’ from her husband in his chosen resting place. It was also hugely inconvenient and stressful to travel those 35 miles. She wanted him dug up and moved to ‘Our Lady of Lourdes’. Despite the fact that Terence had chosen to bypass ‘Our Lady of Lourdes’ all those years on route to his chosen destination of St Gabriel’s…
The Church elders, not noted for their support of the ‘presumption of innocence’ ( pace Bell, pace Savile) in return for dedicated support for the church, does however, defend the ‘presumption of the permanence of Christian burial’.
That presumption flows from the theological understanding that burial (or the interment of cremated remains) is to be seen as the act of committing the mortal remains of the departed into the hands of God as represented by His Holy Church.
They weren’t going to let Terence move churchyards without a fight.
17 Parochial Church Councillors were solemnly summoned; 5 voted in favour of letting Mrs Osborne take him wherever she wanted; 12 abstained. The matter was sent to the Consistory Court for their considered opinion.
The Court of Arches made it clear in Blagdon that the fact that those mourning the departed person are having difficulty in visiting the grave will not amount to an exceptional circumstance such as to justify exhumation. Re Blagdon Cemetery  Fam 299.
(There really are people who pay their mortgages by pontificating over these matters – the Court of Arches is only one part of the Ecclesiastical Courts!)
The matter was further complicated by the fact that ‘Our Lady of Lourdes’ is in the ‘See of Rome’ rather than Canterbury…. so Terence would have been moving faith as well as final resting place.
The decision of the spouse of a departed person to move from worshipping in an Anglican church to worshipping in the church of a different denomination cannot, of itself, be an exceptional circumstance capable of justifying exhumation.
Quite so folks, quite.
Accordingly, the petition must be refused.
Terence will be resting in peace where he is. Mrs Osborne can get a bus, move house, whatever she wishes, but she won’t be moving Terence.
Just wanted you to know that the courts will stand up for you lads eventually…