Scottish church given go-ahead to move cremated remains from memorial garden

A church has created legal history by winning a court order to carry out a mass exhumation of cremated remains from a memorial garden.

Holy Cross Episcopal Church, Knighstwood. Picture: Wikiwayman [CC BY-SA 3.0] Wikimedia Commons

The Scottish Episcopal Church has been granted permission to excavate the land at Glasgow’s former Holy Cross Church and replant it at another site.

The Knightswood church shut in 2013 after 87 years of service because of a dwindling congregation and the building was sold to a children’s nursery business in 2017. A condition of the sale was that church bosses had to arrange for the ashes of the 107 people interred in the garden of remembrance to be removed.

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A suitable site was identified at St Bride’s Church in nearby Hyndland, but the church had to go to Glasgow Sheriff Court to seek permission to carry out the mass exhumation.

The case was the first of its kind in Scotland involving a large-scale disinterment of cremated remains.

Granting the order, Sheriff Andrew Cubie said: “The church building has come to the end of its useful life as a place of worship. The applicant has realised the church building in furtherance of their wider obligations to the diocese. The new occupier proposes use of the church and its grounds as a nursery, but whatever the intended use, the applicant recognises that the continued presence of the memorial garden is not consistent with a building no longer used as a place of worship.”

Sheriff Cubie added: “I am satisfied from the material presented that there is a necessity or high expediency in disinterring the remains and that they can be disinterred and re-interred with decency and respect into an atmosphere and situation akin to the previous garden.”

The church traced relatives of those whose ashes were in the memorial garden and none of them objected.

Some of the ashes are contained in urns. Others have been emptied into the ground or scattered across the garden. The excavation will involve the entire volume of soil and material in the memorial garden, around 7.5 cubic metres, being removed. The operation will be overseen by an archaeologist.

The new memorial garden will be completed by paving paths, laying turf and planting of flowers and shrubs into new beds.

The Very Rev Ian Barcroft, Dean of the Scottish Episcopal Church’s Diocese of Glasgow and Galloway, said the reinterment would be carried out with “pastoral sensitivity”.