Monday, 1 October 2012

A parish in Norfolk

Ecclesiastical  Curiosities
Edited William Andrews (1899) Project Gutenburg
© Godric Godricson
Some seventeen years ago, shortly after taking charge of a parish in Norfolk, I was called upon to select a suitable spot for the burial of a poor man, who had been killed by an accident. After several places had been suggested by me to the sexton, who claimed for them either a family right, or some similar objection; I noticed for the first time, that there were no graves upon the north side of the church, and I, in my innocence, suggested that there would be plenty of space there; whereupon my companion’s face at once assumed the most serious expression, and I  immediately saw that fear had taken hold of his mind, as he answered with a somewhat shaky voice, “No, Sir! No, that cannot be!” My curiosity was immediately aroused, and I sought for an explanation, which I found not from my good and loyal friend, who would not trust himself to answer further than “No, Sir! No, that cannot be!” The sexton’s manner puzzled me greatly, for the man was an upright, straightforward, open-hearted, servant of the Church—but I at once saw that it would be fruitless to push the matter further with him, so after marking out a suitable resting place for the poor unfortunate man, who not being a parishoner of long standing, had no family burial place awaiting him, I made my way home to think over the whole occurrence.The cause for non-burial on the north side of the Church was indeed a mystery, yet that my parishoners had some valid reason for not being laid to rest there, was apparent; so I set about the task of unravelling the superstition, if so it may be called.

© Godric Godricson
My library shelves seemed to be the most natural place of research, but here after consultation with several volumes of Archæology, Ecclesiology,  and Folk Lore, I could find nothing bearing upon the subject, beyond that in certain instances relating to Churchyard Parishes on the sea-coast, the north side by reason of its exposure to wind and storm, and being the sunless quarter of the burying ground, was less used than other parts; but here the reason given was in consideration of the living mourners at the time of the interment, and not the body sleeping in its last resting place of earth.

After some considerable correspondence with friends likely to be interested in such a matter, I was rewarded with information that, in some instances, the northern portion of the churchyard was left unconsecrated, and only thus occasionally used for the burial of suicides, vagrants, highwaymen (after the four cross road graves had been discontinued), or for nondescripts and unbaptised persons, for whom no religious service was considered necessary. Even this I did not accept as a solution of my problem. That there was something more than local feeling underlying this superstition, I was certain, but how to get to the root of the subject perplexed me.

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