In 1020 A.D., 46 years before William the Conqueror became the first Norman king, St. Mary’s Church opened its doors to the pious Anglo-Saxon villagers of Stockton-on-Tees, England. In its thousand-year history, St. Mary’s has survived the reigns of 41 monarchs, multiple religious reformations, wars, famines, plagues, and English weather. And still today it stands, with doors open wide for worship in the Windsor Era. Way to go, St. Mary’s! Hopefully you can withstand the greatest threat of all: an internet mob.
As is to be expected of any 1,001-year-old church, St. Mary’s is a little worse for the wear, and without a serf class working for free to avoid the wrath of a vengeful God, keeping the church in tip-top shape isn’t cheap. To help raise funds for upkeep, St. Mary’s hosts a four-day beer festival on its grounds each fall, partnering with Three Brothers Brewing to entice visitors to pour money into the church’s coffers. Seems pleasant enough, right? Hundreds of livid Facebook users would disagree.
Local news source Norton & Billingham Info posted photos of the community event on its Facebook page, including one of a group of smiling attendees using a grave from the 1740s as a defacto coffee table.
“This is disgraceful behaviour, not only from the people involved but from the church for allowing this to happen,” wrote one user in the post’s comments section. “Cemeteries are places for people to pay respects and remember their loved ones, they’re not beer gardens, and those headstones certainly aren’t stools or tables. A public apology is needed here.”
Another commenter wrote, “The church should be ashamed of themselves and I hope whoever’s graves they are sat on they haunt them because I would!”
Yet another Facebook user presented a sort of slippery-slope argument: “Maybe I’m old fashioned but are u putting up Bouncy Castle on people’s place of rest next ???”
The Norton & Billingham Info Facebook page posted that both the church and the people in the photo have decided to involve the police over the post. The Facebook group then asked users whether or not they believed it was a useful way to use police resources.
“I think trespassing on someone’s grave could be a police matter and they should be prosecuted. Its sacrilege and desecration of someone’s resting place, it’s sick,” read one response.
It’s worth pointing out that the church event is not without precedent: To Brits in the Victorian era, cemeteries were the place to party hearty. Perhaps what really drove them into a fury is not the fact that people were getting their drink on in a sacred place, but that they, too, will die someday, and as time marches forward, their graves—and themselves—will be forgotten. (Until being remembered as a quiet, pleasant place to sip a brew.)
Though the Facebook mob may not be able to undo the injustice inflicted upon the deceased, they were successful in their efforts to make St. Mary’s vicar very, very sad. Responding in the offending post’s comments, Reverend Martin Anderson wrote:
“I am saddened that this event, which we’d hoped would bring joy and positivity in our community, has caused so much upset, and apologise to everyone who has expressed their concern.”
Still, we have a feeling St. Mary’s Church will pull through. It has faced worse in the past 1,001 years.