Lychgate

Lychgate


A lychgate is a gateway covered with a roof found at the entrance to some English churchyards. While most lychgates are now memorials, the lychgate is still considered as part of the churchyard because of it's original purpose The name itself provides a clue, Lych from the Old English (perhaps Saxon) word Lic means corpse.

In the Middle Ages most people were buried in just a shroud rather than a coffin. The dead were carried to the lych gate and placed on a bier (in Medieval times a wooden stand - from Victorian times often a small wheeled cart) and a hand bell (the lych bell) rung before a corpse.

Depending on the region, sometimes a funeral service with a Priest was held and started in the lychgate before the actual church service. Sometimes afterwards where often the pall-bearers could also rest before carrying the corpse or coffin down the lych way, the path along which a corpse was carried to burial. On occsaions ceremonys such as lyke-wake, a night watch over a corpse would be held.

Various folk tales exist around the lychgate, such as the sound of the lych owl, {the screech owl} its cry being held to be a portent of death. In countys such as Sussex small carvings can be seen - the purpose of which is to confuse {and sometimes trap} the Devil to keep him away from the Church itself.

Fortunately nowadays the Lychgate is a great setting for those romantic images!

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