When one approaches St Oswald’s Church from along the cobbles set against the striking setting of of the Church itself the Lych Gate is what first catches the eye. This feature provides a favourite backdrop particularly for wedding and christening part5y photographs.
However the gate has a more solemn connection as perusal of the words carved into one of the central beams indicate.
Grant O Lord that through the grave and gate of death we may pass to our joyful resurrection
The Lych Gate is the porch or entrance to the churchyard and the word Lych comes from the old English or Saxon word for corpse. In the Middle Ages most people were buried in shrouds rather than coffins. The body would be carried to the Lych Gate and placed on a bier by bearers who may have walked some distance using footpaths across surrounding fields or along country lanes. When the Priest and mourners arrived the Priest would then conduct the first part of the funeral service prior to going into the church.
It was the practice then for a body to be taken to the grave in the Parish Coffin and the coffin stored until required again. Coffins incidentally were not in common use for burials by any other than the rich and well to do until after the late 1700s.
In the 1600s and Act of Parliament was passed making it compulsory for woollen shrouds to be used for burials. This was to support the production of woollen cloth. Seemingly it was required that and affidavit be sworn in front of a Justice of the Peace confirming burial in wool. There was a fine of £5 for non-compliance. This was not a popular law since the poor could ill afford a shroud. How stringently this law was adhered to in remote country parishes like Lower Peover is open to speculation but records indicate that this requirement, being difficult to administer, was generally ignored after 1770.
The present gate was built during the incumbency of the Rev Arthur Guest who was vicar from 1877 til 1911. Whether this replaced and earlier structure is not known. During the recent refurbishment of the church walls the opportunity was also taken to carry out repairs to the main oak supports to the Lych Gate.
Today coffins still pass through the Lych Gate as they are taken from church into the churchyard. Although our burial customs may have changed in significant ways over the centuries the Christian hope has remained the same since that first Easter Sunday – the hope that we may share in Jesus’ resurrection.