Church rules against use of Byron poem on gravestone

A verse written by Lord Byron has been ruled unsuitable for include on a churchyard gravestone.

The church has been at the centre of the dispute between Mr Chadfield and The Diocesan Advisory Committee (© Dave Dunford)
The church has been at the centre of the dispute between Mr Chadfield and The Diocesan Advisory Committee (© Dave Dunford)

Judge Stephen Eyre QC, Chancellor of the Diocese of Lichfield, in his role as a judge of the Church’s Consistory Court, refused a grieving husband permission to include the verse on the gravestone of his wife to whom he had been married to for 50 years, saying its theme was not sufficiently religious.

John Michael Chadfield wanted the verse on the headstone of his wife Elaine in a churchyard near Stoke on Trent. She died aged 71 in October 2017.

The verse was from the poem "So, we'll go no more a-roving".

Judge Eyre said: "The passage from Byron is part of a secular poem which conveys no suggestion of Christian resurrection hope.

“Indeed, Mr Chadfield says that it is avowedly an expression of loss. I have no doubt that Mr Chadfield’s loss is intense and the language proposed is beautiful.

"Nonetheless, it is language which is not appropriate on a memorial in churchyard and cannot be permitted.

"That is because of the message which it conveys or rather because of its failure to convey a message consistent with the purpose of the churchyard."

Judge Eyre also banned Mr Chadfield from using the terms "My much-loved wife…." and "..our two boys…" on the gravestone.

He said he considered use of the words "my" and "our" would render the gravestone "overly personal" and that the word "sons" should be used rather than "boys".

He added: "Particular care is needed in the wording of inscriptions. It is important to bear in mind that the inscriptions will be read not just by those who knew the departed loved one but also by those who did not.

"The message sent to the latter is in some respects as important as that sent to the former.

"In those circumstances the message conveyed by an inscription must be consistent with Christian belief and must be something more than an expression of loss no matter how deeply felt."

In the latest case, Mr Chadfield went to the Consistory Court seeking consent for a wedge shaped rough stone memorial with his proposed inscription on a bronze plaque.

The Diocesan Advisory Committee had objected to both the nature of the gravestone planned for the Alton with Bradley le Moors church yard of St Leonard’s near Stoke on Trent and the wording.

While the judge over-rode their objections to the nature of the gravestone, which they had claimed did not fit in with the church yard setting, he sided with them on the wording.

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