Celebrated annually by Roman Catholics on 2nd November (unless that date is on a Sunday when it is instead the 3rd), All Souls’ Day remembers all those who have died but who are not yet sanctified and ready to go to Heaven.
All Souls’ Day’s official name is The Commemoration of the Faithful Departed and in America it is referred to as The Feast of All Souls. It is also observed by some members of the Anglican Church, who term it the Commemoration of All Faithful Departed. In the Anglican and other Protestant churches, it is generally seen as an extension of All Saints Day, which falls on 1st November, whereas members of the Catholic church observe it on its own and many make special trips to cemeteries. In Eastern Orthodox Christianity, a number of days per year are set aside for praying for all souls, examples being around Lent and Pentecost.
The actual practice of praying for all the dead goes back to biblical times and the setting aside of 2nd November as a special date for this first occurred in 998 at the Abbey of Cluny in France. The tradition started there by St Odilo slowly spread throughout France but the date was not formalised by Rome until the fourteenth century. Legend has it that St Odilo established All Souls’ Day after a pilgrim came to the abbey after being stranded on an island where he was told by a hermit that Purgatory was below and tortured souls there lamented the lack of salvation sought for them by the monks at Cluny.
It is no coincidence that All Souls’ Day falls so close to Halloween. It actually is the culmination of the three day Hallowtide festival, of which 31st October is officially called All Hallows Eve. The wearing of costumes and carving scary faces into turnips (now pumpkins as they are far easier) actually comes from the old custom of engaging in these acts to ward off wandering lost souls.
All Souls’ Day now is celebrated in many different ways around the world and is even a public holiday in some South American countries. In Poland, it is traditional to leave flowers and special lights at graves, while in neighbouring Czech Republic just giving the area around the grave a good tidy up is seen as sufficient. In Brittany people kneel at the grave and pour holy water and milk over the gravestone, in parts of Austria and Bolivia they take food but in Brazil it is just flowers. In Malta All Souls’ Day can extend to the whole month, with families making regular pilgrimages to cemeteries and special masses taking place at the parishes.
There are two cemeteries in Liverpool which are reserved solely for the burial of members of the Roman Catholic faith. Situated at Yew Tree in West Derby and Ford in Litherland, they are owned by the Archdiocese of Liverpool and have their own regulations which differ from those set by Liverpool city council.
By far the larger of the two Catholic cemeteries is at Ford, where over 350,000 are buried. This cemetery was opened in 1859 after Liverpool Corporation had ordered the closure of all central burial grounds. This led to Canon Newsham of St Anthony’s Church on Scotland Road being instrumental in arranging the purchase of the land for the Liverpool Catholic Burials Board. The much smaller Yew Tree cemetery was opened in 1893.
The Archdiocese has strict rules in respect of the memorials that are placed on graves in their cemeteries. The headstones must be no more than three feet six inches in height and the maximum width is three feet. Kerbsets are not allowed in either, although you may see some in Yew Tree as historically there was no grass there. This situation was eventually rectified though due to the problems with maintenance. Kerbsets may also be seen in Ford Cemetery on some of the very old graves.
Nowadays graves for new burials can only be purchased in Ford cemetery. Yew Tree cemetery only has provision for graves of cremated remains, but if you already have a plot there with additional space for a burial then this can be arranged. It is also possible for ashes to be interred in a family grave through the undertaker and the Archdiocese.
In addition to the different rules, fees at the Archdiocese owned cemeteries vary to those run by Liverpool city council. However the six council administered cemeteries do all have Catholic burial sections containing a substantial number of graves. At Allerton for instance, 20% of those buried there are Roman Catholic. This means that if your loved one is buried here you are not so restricted in your choice of memorial as at Ford or Yew Tree.
Traditionally Catholic memorials would have a carved marble statue, a Saint or a cross on the memorial. Today Catholic families often request just a Saint, Our Lady or simple cross design for the memorial. Unfortunately marble statues are not as popular due to height restrictions within the cemeteries and also the fact that marble being a soft material makes it easy to vandalise.
If you require any further information about the graves in Ford or Yew Tree cemetery please contact Ursula at Sarsfield Memorials who will be happy to help with your enquiry.