Lychgate

Lychgate

A lychgate, also spelled lichgate, lycugate, or as two separate words lych gate, (from Old English lic, corpse) is a gateway covered with a roof found at the traditional entrance to a (British) churchyard.

Name

The word lych entered into composition constantly in Saxon, thus, lych bell, the hand-bell rung before a corpse; lych way, the path along which a corpse was carried to burial (this in some districts was supposed to establish a right-of-way); lych owl, the screech owl, because its cry was a portent of death; and lyke-wake, a night watch over a corpse (see Lyke-Wake Dirge).

In the Middle Ages most people were buried in just shrouds rather than coffins, the dead were carried to the lych gate and placed on a bier, where the priest conducted the first part of the funeral service under its temporary shelter.

Description

Lych gates consist of a roofed porch like structure over a gate, often built of wood. They usually consist of four or six upright wooden posts in a rectangular shape. On top of this are a number of beams to hold a pitched roof covered in thatch or wooden or clay tiles. They can have decorative carvings and in later times were erected as memorials. They sometimes have recessed seats on either side of the gate itself.

The gateway was really part of the church. It was where the clergy meet the corpse and the bier rests while part of the service is read before burial. It also served to shelter the pall-bearers while the bier was brought from the church. In some lych gates there stood large flat stones called lich-stones upon which the corpse, usually uncoffined, was laid. The most common form of lych gate is a simple shed composed of a roof with two gabled ends, covered with tiles or thatch. At Berrynarbor, Devon, there is a lych gate in the form of a cross, while at Troutbeck, Westmorland, there are three lych gates to one churchyard. Some elaborate gates have chambers over them.

Most were built from around the mid 15th century although some date from earlier, including the 13th century lychgate of St George's churchyard in Beckenham, South London, claimed to be the oldest in England.

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