Friday, April 11, 2008

Through the lychgate

click photo to enlarge
The entrance to many English churchyards is through a roofed gateway, sometimes containing seats, called a lychgate. The word "lych" comes from the Anglo-Saxon, and is similar to the German "leiche" meaning "corpse". These charming structures are often of great antiquity - the oldest in England dates from the 1300s. It was at this covered gate that the priest would meet the party carrying the corpse at the start of a funeral. The body (and in later times the coffin) would be rested here as the service began, and then was placed on a wheeled bier for transport into the church.

Lychgates vary in construction: some are simple wooden structures with thatched or wood shingle roofs, others combine wood, slate (or tiles) and timber, and in upland areas examples can be found made entirely of the local stone. Today the funeral service usually begins at the church building, and the lychgate now serves simply as an entrance to the churchyard. However, enterprising parishes often fit a light on the structure to illuminate the way to the church porch in the evening and darker months, and a notice board is often fitted under cover advertising the events of church and village. In some villages the lychgate serves as the war memorial, and elsewhere they can be found with a donor's name inscribed.

The example in the photograph provides the entry to the churchyard of the medieval All Saints, Thornham, in Norfolk. Like many lychgates it provides an excellent frame for a photograph of the church itself. Here I've used high contrast black and white to emphasise the arches in the woodwork.

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 11mm (22mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f9.0
Shutter Speed: 1/250
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: -2.0 EV
Image Stabilisation: Off