Overview

unbaptized babies


Show Summary Details

Quick Reference

Until recent times, the Church of England and Roman Catholic Church did not allow miscarried or stillborn babies to be buried in consecrated ground, as they had not been baptized; it was thought (explicitly by Catholics, more vaguely by Anglicans) that they went neither to Heaven nor Hell, but to Limbo, where they could never know God. Yet, being human, they deserved some respect; the professional oath required of midwives in 1649 instructed them:Item, if any childe bee dead borne, you your selfe shall see it buried in such secret place as neither Hogg nor Dogg, nor any other Beast may come unto it, and in such sort done, as it may not be found or perceived, as much as you may; and that you shall not suffer any such childe to be cast into the Jaques (privy) or any other inconvenient place. (Anon., The Book of Oaths (1649), 289)

Item, if any childe bee dead borne, you your selfe shall see it buried in such secret place as neither Hogg nor Dogg, nor any other Beast may come unto it, and in such sort done, as it may not be found or perceived, as much as you may; and that you shall not suffer any such childe to be cast into the Jaques (privy) or any other inconvenient place. (Anon., The Book of Oaths (1649), 289)

The lack of a proper funeral was bitterly felt; in Gosforth (Lancashire) in the 1950s, a village craftsman said ‘If tha didn't get kiddy baptised by t'parson, it would have to be put in a box and stuck in t'ground like some sort o' animal … It wouldn't be right like a proper babby, it would be just like burying a dog or a sheep’ (Clark, 1982: 117).

Various compromises were devised to soften the rule. The baby might be laid on the unpopular north side of the churchyard, or just inside its wall, without ceremony or gravestone, or it might be secretly placed in the coffin of an adult, to share the latter's funeral and grave. In 1859, when an undertaker was caught doing this, the Daily Telegraph denounced him as ignorant and ghoulish (10 Oct. 1859), but the practice remained common throughout the 20th century, especially among the poor (Radford, Radford, and Hole, 1961: 346). As a hospital administrator explained in a letter to The Times (31 Mar. 1983) after a similar case, it was hard to get permission for burying stillbirths in consecrated ground, and ‘tandem disposal’ eased the parents’ pain. Some Anglican clergy knew and approved the custom; one said it was ‘in order that the little ghost may not torment its parents with reproachful lamentation’ (Puckle, 1926).

The opposite attitude was expressed by a Devonshire man in 1852: ‘When I was a young man it was thought lucky to have a stillborn child put into any open grave, as it was considered a sure passport to heaven for the next person buried there’ (N&Q 1s:5 (1852), 77). In the last quarter of the 20th century, social and religious attitudes have changed greatly; it is now normal for the bereaved parents, the medical staff, and the hospital chaplain to arrange a funeral (Walter, 1990: 271–80).

[...]


Reference entries

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.