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.
It should be noted that before any such memorial may be installed the Parochial Church Council are obliged to obtain a Faculty or Archdeacon’s Certificate. This can be a lengthy procedure which those who are so kindly inclined to make these gifts do not always understand. Certain pastoral problems result from this. If, therefore, parishioners are to be encouraged to help their church through contributing to the fabric and ornaments of the building by providing practical memorials, the administrative machine of the Diocesan Advisory Committee will have to be speeded up and a greater measure of sensitivity and flexibility exercised in considering the wishes of relatives of the departed. Fees should be kept to a minimum.
St Helen’s also has some 17th Century brasses for the family of Faunce; one of the series is missing.
(Here lyeth the body of Thomas Faunce yeoman, who had two wives Alyce & Elizabeth & had issue by Alyce 2 sones and one daughter & by Elizabeth one sonne and 2 Daughters. The sayd Thomas Deceased yc first day of July 1609 beinge of y° age of LXXXllH yeres : and Alyce dyed ye first daye of Marche 1592 being aged LXifi yeres : Thomas His eldest son'e by Alyce being Mayor of y° cittie of Eochester at his Fathers decease. Here under lyeth interred the body of Bonham Faunce late of this parish Gent: aged 66 : Hee had issue by his two wives Elizabeth and Mary eich of them one childe; Hee dyed the 16 day of February 1652.)
In the south aisle there is a very late brass for Elizabeth Gissome:
(Heare lyeth the body of Elizabeth Gissome late wife of James Gissome of this parrish who departed this life the 14 day of November 1668 being aged 19 yeares & 10 moneths Vivit post funere virtus.) also a stone for the Baynards (Here lyeth the body of Richard Baynard who departed this life May day 1672 aged 4(1 years. Here lyeth the body of Dorryti Baynard late wife of John Baynard of this parish who departed this life ye 21 day of September 1667. Also here lyeth the body of Richard Baynard sone of John and Dorryti Baynard who departed this life March 17th 1671 aged 8 years. Here lyeth the body of John Baynard Husband to Dorryti Baynard and father to Richard Baynard who departed this life May 7th 1676 aged 56 yeares.) of this parish.
In the chancel are two large stones with the matrices of their brasses, evidently in memory of ecclesiastics—probably Rectors of the parish, but who they were it is impossible to say. In one of the Register books the burial of Mrs. Annesley, the wife of the intruded Rector, in the time of the great Rebellion, is recorded as having been effected to the east of the larger of these two stones. Just east of the organ is a slab of Bethersden marble, much defaced by time, and with no legend; also there is another with the matrix of a small half-length brass of an ecclesiastic, under the tiles in the middle of the chancel between the choir-seats. It was so shattered that it was left as it was, and the levelling for the tiles just allowed them to cover it and the stone above mentioned.
Often missed is a large board, situated in the baptistery, that list the ‘Benefactors to the Poor of the Parish of Cliffe’ as shown below.