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St Dunawd’s church, Bangor-on-Dee

In a previous entry, I discussed a phenomenon I have referred to as ‘cremation switchback’.

Many churchyards in England and Wales display a horizontal stratigraphy of expansion during the 20th and early 21st centuries. Rather than reusing areas with extant graves and gravestones, new churchyard extensions are established. Sometimes there are extensions to the extensions, and in further case there are extensions to the extensions to the extensions! Churchyards get bigger and bigger, while the core near the church becomes an open-air museum of far older graves, only sometimes augmented with new or restored memorials and replacement memorials are added.

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The elder cremation burial section, beside the main north porch of the church

However, in areas and locations where churchyard expansion is not possible, separate burial grounds are sometimes established for the inhumed and cremated dead. Again, there are sometimes separate burial grounds and extensions to them, or multiple successful separate burial grounds further away from the church each time.

Sometimes a further pattern can be discerned, while inhumation graves are usually established farther from the church in churchyard extensions or separate burial grounds, the cremated dead can return to the sacred core of the parish church. The low disturbance associated with the cremation burial facilitates the cremated deads’ return to the older parts of the churchyard, to be interspersed between older graves or to adapt around pre-existing churchyard features: cremation switchback.

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Cremation memorials revitalise the main approach to the church

At Pennant Melangell, I discussed how the ‘cremation switchback’ took the form of a garden of remembrance south of the church. Another form of ‘cremation switchback’ can be witnessed at Bangor is y Coed (Bangor-on-Dee, Wrexham). Here, there are two phases of the switchback. First,there is a line of memorials of different form and character to the west of the north porch – the main entrance into the church. Second, these cremation burials are succeeded by a more uniform and regulated use of the main path from the road and war memorial to the north entrance.

These plans make use of older parts of churchyards, renewing their association with the dead. They also allow the cremated dead to be a collective presence for visitors to the church for services again. This constitutes a largely undiscussed and researched operation in the life-history of modern churchyards and one I am writing about for forthcoming publications.

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