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Explore the Churchyard

lych gateIn St Mary’s churchyard there are many memorials to local families of years gone by. Lords rest alongside lowly housekeepers, and Knights of the Realm and Major Generals are laid to rest with wheelwrights and humble clerks.

As the legend on the Lych-gate at the entrance to the churchyard reminds us:

S · MARY· Ye · VIRGIN 1872 EAST · BARNET +

both · high · and · low rich · and · poor · together

The churchyard has been closed for burials since the end of the 19th century, but in recent years the churchyard was designated a conservation area for flora and fauna, as part of the Living Churchyards Project, and is maintained through a partnership between the London Borough of Barnet and members of St Mary’s congregation.

yewsThe Living Churchyards Project is a national initiative which aims to conserve and enhance the wildlife heritage found in our churchyards. Churchyards are often important havens for wildlife, especially in towns and cities, where they may be a rare patch of greenery in a bricks and concrete landscape. Some country churchyards have been found to have a hundred species of plants and ferns as well as trees, birds, mammals and insects. While recognising their primary role as a resting place for the dead, ancient churchyards are also a living sanctuary for wildlife, echoing the Christian hope that life goes on, and death is not the end.

In 1991, the Lych-gate, originally erected in 1872, was rebuilt by Barnet Council. Lych-gates were originally built when Churchyards were first enclosed, and allowed the pall bearers at funerals to rest and shelter outside the Church until the Priest arrived to receive the body into Church. The adjoining stile was installed to allow access when the gates were closed to prevent animals entering the Churchyard and becoming ill from eating the leaves of the yew trees which line the Church path. These trees are about 300 years old.

In the south west corner of the Churchyard a small yew cutting from the Eastling Yew in Kent, a tree alive at the time of Christ’s incarnation, was planted in 2000 to commemorate the beginning of the third millennium of Christianity.

graveboardsWooden ‘graveboards’ remain upright on the north side of the churchyard. These are grave-markers (peculiar to Hertfordshire) which were for families who could not afford a stone memorial, and originally had the names of the deceased written on them. If you look very closely you can still make out the very feint lettering.

If you would like to explore further, you can download the Churchyard Map and Memorial Listing.

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