Illustrated Dictionary of British Churches

History and Architecture

Lych Gate

A covered gate, usually at the entrance to a churchyard. The term lych evolved from the Saxon word for corpse, and the lych gate was traditionally a place where corpse bearers caried the body of a deceased person and laid it on a communal bier. The priest would then carry out the first part of a burial ceremony under the shelter of the lych gate roof. Lych gates are usually of wood, and thus subject to decay. For that reason many are fairly modern reconstructions of much older timber covered gateways. They are traditionally roofed with wooden or clay tiles, or thatch.

The large timber beams framing the gateway are often carved with decorative elements, or inscribed with the names of donors. There are frequently small bench seats on either side of the passage - very useful for sheltering from a rain shower! A number of churches erected, or re-erected, lych gates to mark the millennium in the year 2000.

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