What can and can’t be inscribed on headstones?

It can be challenging to decide on a suitable inscription for a headstone. This can be complicated further still by the policies of the specific church or graveyard. There are no clear rules for Catholic, Church of England or municipal burial grounds; instead, there are loose guidelines and specific restrictions depending on the particular site. This can create problems and has even resulted in a small number of cases where people have been asked to change inscriptions.

Catholic churches have no central policy on what can and can’t be inscribed on a headstone. Each particular site will have their discretion, and you should always ask what is and isn’t allowed before you choose an inscription. There are only a small number of Catholic burial sites in the UK and cases where people are asked to change inscriptions are very rare.

The Church of England has 42 dioceses, each of which has their own specific churchyard regulations. Some of these have clear guidelines on inscriptions or headstones whereas others are a little more flexible. The majority allow personalisation in terms of including pet names or nicknames, but ask that they be put in inverted commas. The Diocese of Oxford specifically asks that inscriptions be “simple, reverent and theologically acceptable”. Some put limitations on the graphics you can have and inscriptions they deem to be appropriate.

Municipal burial grounds have outline guidance covering informal memorialisation but not inscriptions. Non-Church of England burial grounds have slightly more freedom but still need to follow guidelines in terms of what is appropriate. In all cases hate speech should be avoided.

The rules for headstone and gravestone inscriptions remain blurred, and what you are allowed will depend on the specific site. Before setting on an inscription for your memorial or headstone, it is always advisable to find out what the specific rules are at your chosen churchyard or cemetery. This will help you to come up with the right inscriptions and avoid having to change them if they are deemed unacceptable.

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