chapter  6
28 Pages


In exceptional circumstances a cemetery could be consecrated and filled within a few months. The best documented examples were those opened in London during the Black Death. At Spittle Croft a plaque was erected on the site, which the Tudor antiquarian Stow recorded:

A great plague raging in the year of our Lord 1349, this church was consecrated; wherein, and within the bounds of the present monastery, were buried more than 50,000 bodies of the dead, besides many others from thence to the present time, whose souls God have mercy upon. Amen. (Ziegler 1982:163, Horrox 1994: 267)

The plague cemeteries were exceptional to the normal evolution of cemeteries over time. The initial foundation of a cemetery could take several different forms: continuing a previous tradition, whether Iron Age, Roman, Anglo-Saxon or Viking; the foundation of a new church in an area; or an outlying chapel being granted its own burial rights from the parish church. Once permission had been granted, the wholesale clearance of the land might then take place. At Mitre Street, in London, the Roman remains were completely cleared in the tenth century to make space for a Saxon graveyard. The same cemetery was clearly divided between the crowded and intercutting burials in the earlier western half, and those in the eastern half, which were carefully laid out to avoid each other (Riviere 1986:37). The division of the graveyard into east and west sections was also visible in an early Christian cemetery (possibly ninth century) at Capel Maelog in Wales (Jones 1988:27). At Raunds a new church was built, with five times the capacity of the old one, and the cemetery was cleared at the time of the Norman Conquest.