'Literature lover' granted wish to be buried in Sylvia Plath churchyard

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The Church of England has granted the request of a woman who lives in Oxfordshire to be buried in the same Yorkshire cemetery as Sylvia Plath, because she felt “profoundly spiritual” during a visit to the poet’s grave at Heptonstall.

The Daily Mail reported that that the unnamed 44-year-old woman, in a judgment published by the Church of England, explained why she had applied for permission, writing: “A few years ago I visited Heptonstall with my mother to visit the grave of the troubled poet, Sylvia Plath, wife of poet laureate Ted Hughes. We did not stay long as the last bus down the steep hill to Hebden Bridge was due, yet I felt profoundly spiritual in this place.

“My siblings and their families know I love literature and will understand why I wish to be buried in St Thomas’s cemetery in the parish of St Thomas the Apostle in Heptonstall in Yorkshire.”

The Burial Act 1853 states that local residents, people named on a church's electoral roll and those dying within the same parish all have the right to be buried at their local churchyard. However, special requests can be made to the Church of England to be buried elsewhere.

Reverend Karen Marshall did not object to the application, saying: “There is a lot of interest in the history of the village and its connection with Sylvia Plath, and although most people who are buried here are local, it is by no means the case for all of the burials.

“However, to my knowledge no one to date has cited their reason for wishing to be buried here as being on account of literary associations. The PCC was asked if it was happy for this application to go to faculty and they said that they were.”

Church judge The Worshipful Mark Hill QC, chancellor of the Diocese of Leeds, said he was confident that granting permission would not prompt a flood of applications from people wanting to be buried in close proximity to their literary heroes and heroines.

In his judgment, Mr Hill said: “The reason for seeking a faculty is unusual, possibly unique. It is not for this court to investigate the objective reasonableness of the petitioner’s justification, especially where there is so much available space.” 

Sylvia Plath took her own life in 1963, not long after she and Ted Hughes had separated. She is buried in Heptonstall, close to the Hughes family plot. Her headstone has been periodically defaced over the years by supporters objecting to the inscription ‘Sylvia Plath Hughes’.


Background: A pilgrimage to the grave of Sylvia Plath


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Julian (Admin)

Sat 6th Mar 2021 10:06

As I understand it, Sylvia Plath herself was not local to Heptonstall, Hughes having bought his house at Lumb Bank after their separation.

Presumably, that precedent would have made this woman's request difficult to refuse anyhow.

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