AskDefine | Define churchyard

Dictionary Definition

churchyard n : the yard associated with a church [syn: God's acre]

User Contributed Dictionary

English

Noun

  1. A patch of land adjoining a church, often used as a graveyard.

Derived terms

Extensive Definition

A churchyard is a patch of land adjoining or surrounding a church which is usually owned by the relevant church or local parish itself. In the Scots language or Northern English language this can also be known as a kirkyard or kirkyaird.
A churchyard should not be confused with a graveyard or a cemetery. While churchyards were historically often used as graveyards, they can also be any patch of land on church grounds, even without a place of burial.

Use of churchyards as a place of burial

Historically the most common use of churchyards were as a consecrated burial ground known as a graveyard. Graveyards were usually established at the same time as the building of the relevant place of worship (which can date back to the 8th to 14th centuries) and were often used by those families who could not afford to be buried inside or beneath the place of worship itself.
The use of churchyards as burial grounds for the deceased was discontinued all over Europe in various stages between the 18th to 19th centuries due to lack of space for new headstones and dead bodies. In many European states, burial in churchyards was outlawed altogether either by royal decrees or government legislation for public hygiene reasons.

Regional characteristics

The stones of Scottish Kirkyards are unique in Britain. The Lowland Scottish Gravestones differ from their southern counterparts in their profusion of symbolic relief work.

Churchyards today

Churchyards can be host to unique and ancient habitats because they may remain significantly unchanged for hundreds of years.
In many cases in the late 19th and 20th centuries, large portions of churchyards were taken in order for roads to be built or expanded. The loss of part (or all) of the churchyard, often lead also to the removal and permanent loss of centuries old graves and headstones. In some cases the human remains were exhumed and the gravestones transferred.
In other cases, all headstones have been removed, to create a park-like environment, or simply to facilitate the seasonal cutting and removal of grass or weeds.
A very small number of churchyards across the world are still used as graveyards today.

See also

References

churchyard in Galician: Adro
churchyard in Portuguese: Adro (arquitetura)
churchyard in Russian: Погост
churchyard in Ukrainian: Погост
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