Church in row over grave digging

People from a Valleys community are calling on the Church in Wales not to go ahead with plans to dig up graveyard remains to build for new houses.

St. John’s Church in Tonyrefail has been closed for 50 years, but church leaders say they want to sell the site because they don’t have enough money for maintenance.

Planning permission has been given for houses and the remains would have to be re-buried at a nearby churchyard.

But the relatives of some of the people buried there say to remove the graves would be immoral. The site, now a Scout hall, is currently overgrown, but they would rather keep it the way it is than move the graves to a nearby cemetery.

“I had an aunt in London who, when she passed away, wanted to come back to be with her parents,” said local resident Linden Evans. “I’ve got one aunt left and I daren’t tell her that they’re contemplating building houses on her parents and sister.”

Another resident, Stephen Williams, said: “People don’t realise how historic the graveyard is.

“It’s not an ordinary graveyard – it dates back to the 1500s, to the Knights of Jerusalem and the Knights of Malta, and there are people from all over the South Wales Valleys buried there.”

The Church says it is sympathetic and has called in a specialist to identify the graves before they are moved. But it said unless local authorities take on responsibilities for disused graveyards, as in England, there is no alternative.

Sion Brynach of the Church in Wales said: “In England, when churchyards are closed, they are adopted by local authorities who then look after the upkeep of those areas of land.

“In Wales, that isn’t the case and the Church in Wales simply doesn’t have the resources to make sure that graveyards are kept in the way which we would want them to be kept.”

The final decision will lay with the Home Office.