Consecration is the setting aside of land or buildings for sacred use in perpetuity. Usually land or buildings are only consecrated following a written request to the Bishop called a Petition for Consecration. The consecration can only be undertaken by a Bishop using a particular form of liturgy. The church or burial ground becomes legally consecrated upon the Bishop signing a document called a Sentence of Consecration (which is usually done in the course of a consecration service) usually witnessed by the Diocesan Registrar. Consecration of additional churchyard for burials is simpler than consecrating a new church or burial ground and the Registrar need not attend.
When a church or burial ground has been consecrated, it becomes subject to the Faculty jurisdiction (see Faculty Jurisdiction).
As well as consecrating churches and churchyards in the diocese, the Bishop consecrates cemeteries owned by Parish Councils or other local authorities. Where a burial authority wishes to have all or part of a cemetery consecrated, it should write to the Diocesan Registrar with a request for the land to be consecrated by the Bishop. The request should be accompanied by:
1. A scaled plan of the land to be consecrated shown edged or coloured in red with a compass showing the north point.
2. A copy of the Conveyance or Transfer of the land to the burial authority, and the Land Registry official title (if registered).
3. A copy of the planning permission for change of use of the land to a burial ground.
The Diocesan Registrar will prepare the necessary Petition for Consecration and Sentence of Consecration and arrange with the Bishop and the burial authority a date for the consecration ceremony.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Are fees payable for a consecration?
A: No fees are payable in the case of the consecration of a church, churchyard or churchyard extension. However, there may be fees payable for conveyancing beforehand. Where a burial authority wishes to have a public cemetery consecrated, the Diocesan Registrar is entitled to charge an appropriate fee for time spent on correspondence, the preparation of documents and attendance at the consecration ceremony.
Q: Is there a special order of service?
A: There is no prescribed form of service for a consecration. The form of the service will vary from diocese to diocese. The Order of Service should be agreed with the Bishop beforehand.
Q: Can the Bishop deconsecrate land or buildings?
A: Maybe, but only when land or a building is not vested in an ecclesiastical person or body (for example, a chapel in a public cemetery). In the case of a church or churchyard, the legal effects of consecration can only be removed by an Act of Parliament or a Measure of the General Synod of the Church of England, or under any power contained in any Act of Parliament or Measure. Examples would be the making of a pastoral scheme under the Mission and Pastoral Measure 2011, or the acquisition of part of a churchyard for road-widening by a local authority exercising compulsory purchase powers.
Q: If a cleric is asked to perform a burial service and discovers that the land in which the grave is dug is not consecrated, what should be done?
A: A cleric cannot first consecrate the grave, because only a Bishop can consecrate. Canon B.38.5 of the Canons of the Church of England provides that “When a body is to be buried according to the rites of the Church of England in any unconsecrated ground, the officiating minister, on coming to the grave, shall first bless the same”.
Q: How often do consecrations take place?
A: Only occasionally.