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A lych gate in Ceredigion, Wales, decorated for a wedding

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 entrance to a traditional English or English-style churchyard. Examples exist also outside the British Isles in places such as Sweden.


The word lych survived into modern English from the Old English or Saxon word for corpse, mostly as an adjective in particular phrases or names, such as 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 when 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.

Compare modern German "Leiche", Dutch "lijk", Frisian "lyk", and Swedish "lik", all meaning corpse.


Lych gate, St George's church in Beckenham, South London, claimed to be the oldest in England[1]

Lychgates 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 met the corpse and the bier rested while part of the service was 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 lychgate in the form of a cross, while at Troutbeck, Westmorland, there are three lychgates 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.[1] Several new examples were built to mark the new Millennium, such as those at Lenton, Lincolnshire, and Careby.

Use at weddings[edit]

Traditionally in some parts of England, particularly parts of Yorkshire, at the end of the wedding as the bride and groom leave the church the gates are closed (or where there is an absence of gates a rope is held across) by the local children and the couple have to pay them to let them pass.


See also[edit]

Media related to Lychgates at Wikimedia Commons


Public Domain This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 

  1. ^ a b Brewer's Britain and Ireland, compiled by John Ayto and Ian Crofton, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2005, ISBN 0-304-35385-X

External links[edit]