LYCH GATE

Apart from the vehicle entrance, the pedestrian entry to the campus of the school I used to teach at was a small lych gate. Lych gates are more commonly seen as entrances to a churchyard or consecrated ground.

This is a church school and the gate is really only a stone’s throw from the school chapel, so the choice may be forgiven – I believe it was erected as a memorial to someone, although there is no sign of that on the gate. When I was there, very few of the girls attending the school knew what a lych gate represents. To them it was simply the name of a place: “meet me at the Lych Gate” was no different from “meet me at the drinking fountain”. The school, well over a century old, is peppered with names commemorating people or events from the past that have simply become names in the present – the historical significance gradually disappearing over time. The amusing aspect of this particular lych gate though is that a long-serving member of the administrative staff would regularly refer to it as the LYNCH gate! This might have been related to the spellcheck in MSWord – which duly underlined every ‘lych’ in this paragraph and suggested it be replaced with ‘lynch’. It was an interesting slip though for the word ‘lych’ comes from the Old English līc, meaning corpse.

In practical terms, a lych gate is a covered gate that was traditionally where the corpse bearers would wait for the priest to receive the corpse for burial. The one I mentioned earlier has low wooden gates, but this modern one at the entrance to the New Cemetery in Grahamstown, is a drive-through one.

Following tradition it has a pitched roof, this one covered with clay tiles. It also has small bench seats on either side, which would originally have been a resting place for the shroud-wrapped body or coffin. In these days of hearses, the best these narrow benches could offer perhaps is some shelter for a few people from the rain.

14 thoughts on “LYCH GATE

    • I am pleased you found it interesting. The historical /traditional meanings of so many things – as well as historical contexts – are fast disappearing, so it is good to be reminded every now and then.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Interesting – I did not know that lych literally means corpse. I remember when some time back someone organised a tour of the old graves at the local historical cemetery that was to start at the lych gate. The pamphlet advertising the tour said: Meet at the gazebo!

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    • This is the problem when names of structures disappear (along with the understanding of their historical significance). We have become used to portable gazebos as many campers use them to provide extra shelter or shade. If one looks into the architectural history of gazebos they are generally permanent structures placed in a garden to provide shade and from where one might enjoy the view. These are also sometimes referred to as summer houses.

      Liked by 1 person

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