Despite once being a choir boy at historic Sefton Church in the days before it was lit by electricity (I kid you not the church was lit by candelabra and oil lamps until the early 1970’s) no one ever told me what the word lich meant in terms of the church’s lich gate.
It’s one of those things I have sometimes wondered about but then forgotten again. However, my old chum Keith (the one who can take really good photos) gave me a book to read recently called The Wild Rover by a chap called Mike Parker. It’s a potted history about footpaths, how they came about and who uses them and has used them in previous generations.
Deep in this fascinating book what did a come across but a definition of lich, lych or lyke gates. It seems us northerners call them lyke. Lich or lych or Lyke is an old English word for corpse so I learned. Anyway, the book goes on to talk about the paths leading to rural churches back in old days when the dead were carried for miles along what were then know as corpse paths and the entrance to the church for the dead was always through the lyke gate with its roof to shelter the living who were carrying the dead.
I already knew something of the practice as a few years ago I became aware of Brooms Cross, an ancient cross in the fields near Thornton where those carrying the dead would rest with their burden on their way to Sefton Church.
So now this present day atheist knows a bit more than he did before he picked up this book, which is well worth a read I would add if you, like me, enjoy walking footpaths.