No stripping of the altars here

Charles Cowling



By Richard Rawlinson


The row at Haycombe crematorium in Bath over the replacement of the cross-etched 1960s window with a clear pane – offering a neutral blank canvas for visitors of different faiths and none – is contextualised by this example of tolerance and diversity.

The pictures here are of North London’s New Southgate Cemetery and Crematorium, which probably reflects the capital’s multicultural diversity more than any other, catering for religions and traditions including Catholic, CofE, non-religious, Bahai, Jehovah’s Witness, Jewish burials and many more besides.

With its cemetery established in 1860 and its crematorium opened in 1957, New Southgate offers dedicated burial areas for Greek Orthodox, Caribbean and Catholic communities, plus wooded areas for people who wish to have more natural surroundings. Wander round and contemplate the statue of Our Lady one minute, and peaceful green havens the next.

The traditional chapel, which offers an organ as well as a CD system, appeals to everyone from Hindus and Sikhs to secularists. Peace and common sense prevail. Crosses and other religious symbols can be changed or removed to create the right setting for each individual service, but the point is that it remains the spitting image of a handsome Victorian church. In other words, it reflects our Christian heritage, an unpopular phrase, but one that is simply accurate.

No-one is lobbying to knock down its steeple, like poor relations of Reformation icon-smashers or the cultural cleansers of the Chinese Revolution. Far from demanding it resembles an industrial incinerator devoid of any ‘offensive’ character, all faiths and none are sharing this beautiful inside and outside space for their funerals.  

3 thoughts on “No stripping of the altars here

  1. Whither consecrated woodland burial sites? | The Good Funeral Guide

    […] Meanwhile, traditional cemeteries from Clitheroe Cemetery in Lancashire to London’s New Southgate Cemetery have established wooded areas for people who wish to have more natural surroundings. Here. […]

  2. Charles Cowling

    Belated reply, GM. Good to learn of your take on this subject. It’s so refreshing to see avoidance of unnecessary ‘us and them’ divisions. Common purpose.

    Charles Cowling
  3. Charles Cowling
    gloria mundi

    This is good to read. I envy the people of Southgate and environs. One of the two I most frequently work at is a dump – disgraceful really, the council should be ashamed of itself.

    It’s always seemed to me, as a secularist, obtuse and bloody-minded to ignore the fact that our culture has a predominantly Christian heritage. We should enjoy the products of such heritage where they are enjoyable ie. not in the case of a tired old sort-of-a-bit-Christian-but-not-really crem chapel, but certainly in the case of that splendid spire. A beautiful space that encourages contemplation is an invaluable asset to us all.

    I knew an atheist who said she couldn’t listen so sacred music (e.g. Bach, etcetcetcetc) because the words are “such tosh.” One can only sigh, and regret her loss.

    Charles Cowling

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