Once again, I wish to look at the topic of how cremation burials are situated within contemporary churchyards: a common topic of this Archaeodeath blog. This time, we head to Caerhun, Gwynedd. I’ve reported before about this wonderful medieval church and its memorials in 2014 and its heritage interpretation in 2018.
Located away from the nearest settlements, it is situated in one corner of a Roman fort (Canovium) on the west bank of the Afon Conwy. The fort’s earthworks, its extramural vicus, and the bathhouse complex on a terrace down towards the river, can still be seen in the surrounding fields in this picturesque locale.
One feature I failed to address is the positioning of cremation memorials in the churchyard. Now, it tends to be the case that the farther one gets from crematoria, and into rural communities, the less frequent one might expect cremation burials to be. However, even the remotest of churchyards in Wales possesses cremation burials appended to the existing funerary topography over the last century, but most frequently and noticeably over the last 50 years.
In this regard, it should be mentioned that the nearest crematorium to Caerhun is Colwyn Bay, roughly only 15-18 minutes drive away. So, while seemingly isolated, the churchyard is actually quite close to major roads, the coastal strip of urban centres from Conwy, and Llandudno to Rhos on Sea, Colwyn Bay and Old Colwyn. Therefore, the distance from a crematoria is deceptive.
The key point is that most graves in the churchyard cover inhumation graves from the 19th century to the late 20th century, but the church is no longer open to new inhumations (I haven’t researched when the churchyard’s last inhumation took place). Yet cremation affords the opportunity of internments in maintained but no longer active churchyards without disturbing earlier graves. Instead, cremation burials are the principal recent memorial additions and the only mode of disposal open to those wishing to be interred in this idyllic spot.
Now, elsewhere cremation burials can be placed along churchyard boundaries or close to the church itself, but a further common practice is to situate memorials alongside either sides of the main pathways to the church doorway. This is the case at Caerhun, where upon my last visit in 2018, a modest number of low ledgers, flush with the ground surface, have accrued over interred cremains on either side of the path from the lychgate to the principal western entrance into the church. This choice of location is a popular one with parish councils and the church authorities because it allows ready access to cremation memorials and everyone visiting the church for worship or otherwise must pass them by. Their individual modest scale belies the revitalisation of the churchyard that these cremation memorials collectively afford.