Friday, 9 March 2012

A Dissenter graveyard

In Manchester, there is a defunct Unitarian church, and next to it a graveyard where many Unitarians and their dissenting predecessors are buried.

Asda want to build a car-park on it.

A local group, Friends of Swinton Unitarian, has been formed to protest the loss of this piece of heritage.

I thought this whole issue was rather illuminating of the issues around ancient 'pagan' burials.

How this is different from reburying ancient 'pagan' burials
  • the burials are considerably more recent; direct descendants may still be around
  • if the burials need to be relocated, the rituals with which they would have been interred are still extant
  • there is still a Unitarian religion with direct and unbroken descent from the Unitarians of the 19th century and their dissenting predecessors
  • the graves are still in situ and we don't really need another supermarket - the remains are not being dug up for rescue archaeology purposes
The Unitarian response

The response to this from contemporary Unitarians is also interesting and sensible.

In the UK Unitarians group on Facebook, one member commented:
Graveyards and cemeteries are for the living. That we live in a time when we don't see a graveyard as sacred space and don't value them is to my mind a real shame. This is not about where the bodies may be buried but about the meaning of this space. Our history should not just be confined to written or electronic records but should be around us for all to see. If this becomes a debate about where bones are buried, I think that we are missing a more profound issue about the value of sacred space within our communities.
I think the history is important. The fact that there were separate dissenters' graveyards is a significant aspect of British history. Also, this is a green space in the heart of a city, which is another reason for caring about it. And there may be individual graves of historic significance, as well as the whole thing being a bit of our history. But I am heartened to see that most commenters have said that the living are more important than the dead, and that the history and the sacred space are the most important aspects.