St. Helen’s Church
(A brief pen-portrait of the interior)
Tombs, Memorials and Burials
Tombs, memorials and burials occur less in churches today although at one time it was common practice for almost all ecclesiastics and most nobles to be buried in the church building. According to Fuller’s ‘Church History of Britain’, bodies were first allowed to be brought for burial in church buildings in A.D. 758. At that time burial was confined to the porch, but Archbishop Cuthbert of Canterbury appears to have set a precedent by contriving to have his body buried inside Christ Church. This seems to have been taken as authority for burial within church buildings. It is interesting to note how the position of burial became a kind of spiritual status symbol, with the porch saying to the churchyard, the nave to the porch, the chancel to the nave and the sanctuary to all the others — “Stand farther off for I am holier than thou”. It was as if the steps to the High Altar were the stairs to Heaven and that the souls of those buried nearer the east end rested in a greater degree of eternal happiness!
Although few persons are buried within our parish churches today, occasionally one finds a memorial erected to their memory within the building. Nowadays this is mostly of a practical and functional nature. The memorial tablet on the south wall of the chancel is inscribed “The Lighting of this Chancel and Sanctuary was installed by his parents and sister in proud and loving memory of Barry John Couzens. 1936 - 1972. A sincere and fearless Christian”. The actual memorial itself takes the form of high level lighting in the Chancel and diffused concealed lighting in the Sanctuary. The work cost £352.22, but there were several additional costs involving fees, etc. and so it was a most generous gift and one very worthy for such a fine Chancel as St. Helen’s. The memorial was completed in the latter months of 1973, and dedicated by the Archdeacon of Rochester at Evensong on Sunday 21st April 1974.
Other monuments that were once clearly visible to visitors are of a nave stone, probably a coffin lid, bearing this inscription:—
" IONE LA FEMME JOHAN RAM GYST
" ICI, DEU DE SA ALME EIT MERCI."
There was also a beautiful slab with a floriated cross, and another of a more simple design, both without any legend, also a very large wedge-shaped stone without inscription. These have now been recently moved from their original position along the north aisle, just east of the south transept.
In the north aisle there was a large slab of Reigate stone with a half-length figure of Elienore and was inscribed:
"ELIENORE DE CLIVE GIST ICI. DEU SA ALME EIT MERCI. AMEN PAR CHARITE.”
Sadly the inscription has been almost worn away but a sketch, drawn in 1794, survives and is shown below.