THE vicar of a Headington Quarry church has defended plans to pave over a grave to make room for an expansion after members of the public cried "shame on you" as plans were approved.
The Holy Trinity Church, which also houses the grave of Narnia author CS Lewis, was given the go ahead at the committee meeting last week to extend the rear to include a disabled toilet, crèche and kitchenette.
There were jeers and cries at the heated City Hall planning meeting after councillors supported the application after being told by officers that building over the grave of Cybil and Florence Coppock "was not a planning matter."
Stephanie Meesom of the Holy Trinity Conservation Group also claimed there were 800 unmarked graves dating from 1845 to 1911 at the church.
She said: "In these circumstances we feel there should be a geo-physical or archaeological study in this area.
"We feel very strongly that a good case hasn’t been made for anything other than a disabled toilet.
"There is no reason that this beautiful, unique and relatively untouched church should be sullied by this extension.
"For us there is an ethical issue of covering a grave or shoving a pipe through the remains of a human being."
But those in favour of the scheme downplayed the fears and said the changes were needed.
Representative David Knight of the church argued: "We are keen to preserve both the aesthetic and the ethos.
"However, church life is very different to what it was in the 19th century and it badly needs modern facilities to support this congregation and future congregations."
Architect Christian Rendell said: "The original intention was to build something much larger and the church has made some quite serious compromises.
"The Victorian Society are happy with this proposal. My intention was to design something that would fit in and not take notice of itself.
"It's at the rear, it's unlit, anyone wouldn't even know what had happened. The design reflects the extension, it is not a pastiche."
Reverend Tim Stead later dismissed the claims of unmarked graves arguing that there was no evidence they existed at all.
Addressing concerns from residents he told Oxford Mail: "There is one grave we will pave over and we have always recognised that this is very, very sensitive.
"We originally had a plan to build a much larger extension which would have built over 15 graves and after the concerns we have scaled it back.
"We are trying to be as sensitive as we can but if we didn’t build over this one in particular we wouldn’t have had a project.
"There is a sense of not wanting to change. We have tried to be responsive to that. It will be around the back which most people won’t see.
"We desperately need the facilities we are talking about. I am just really sad that that people are against it but we can’t make it any smaller."
Now that planning permission has been secured the issue of the graves will be considered by the Diocese of Oxford at a later date.