Broad Street Wrington HISTORY
The custom of tying the lych gate at a wedding:
some initial thoughts

In the video of a recent wedding shown on this website, the customary tying of the lych gate by children was shown. The bridegroom is expected to throw loose change to the children as the price of having the gates untied, and being allowed to pass through.

This brought an inquiry to the website from Peter Walker in Alberta:

     "You may be able to speak to somebody high up in the Church about a certain     
     Wedding Custom.
It was suggested to me to Google it, BUT I wouldn't have any idea
     where to start.
One of the pictures shows the Churchyard Gate being tied shut, - and
     I remember doing the same, sometimes with Barbed wire in Stanton Drew - so that
     the Groom then gets to throw a certain amount of money over the gate to the
     crowd, before the gate will be opened for the pair to walk through.

      So, where did the custom of tying the gate start, and is there a certain amount of
     change that "must" be thrown to the waiting crowd, in essence to prove that their
     marriage is Legit !

      Do you have any ideas on where to start ?"

Not having somebody high up in the church to ask, I Googled, and the results suggest it's certainly not a custom restricted to Somerset. As you can see from these references, it's an old custom in the Peak District and Yorkshire Dales too. The third reference is to a whole string of customs - but not the tying-up !

As for the origin and 'purpose' of the custom, I wonder whether it relates, from the groom's point of view, to the fact that, having had, in times past, to pay 'bride-price' to the bride's family, for taking their daughter away (as they were bound to hand her over with a dowry), this is a 'final payment' demanded by the children of the village, for losing a 'sister'.

The whole process leading up to a wedding always was a primarily economic business. The two families were concerned, among other things, about obtaining a favourable financial outcome, given the inevitable movement of property - sometimes 'fixed' (land), sometimes moveable (possessions and money). This, indeed, was one of the major reasons why priests in the Roman Catholic church were forbidden to marry in 1139.

Many branches of the Christian church have had problems with notions of impurity in relation to priests having sexual relations, even in marriage, but, the economic factor assumed enormous importance as the Church began acquiring its own property. Even in the Anglican church, the incumbent of a parish owned the freehold of the glebelands, which were the source of his income.

The Roman church saw a real danger that legitimate children of priests could inherit and deprive the Church of its land. Although there might be legal impediments which could prevent illegitimate children from inheriting property, nevertheless, the 1139 ban did not enact celibacy (which would have solved the impurity problem) but merely changed the status of marriage with a priest for a woman into concubinage. In a document on celibacy prepared by church historian Hubert Jedin for the Second Vatican Council, he argues:

"It would be a mistake to imagine that these permanent concubines, especially in the
               countryside, would have aroused a lot of scandal. We know of many cases where these 'keepers of
               concubines' possessed the sympathies of their parishioners and were looked upon as good and
               virtuous pastors."

Another way of looking at the lych gate tying draws on that 'popular' term for getting married as being 'tying the knot', which is symbolically done by the priest tying his stole around the couple's joined hands immediately after having pronounced them man and wife.

It may be that, in paying for untying the knot at the church gate - having left the 'sacred' space of the church, and ritual time of the wedding ceremony - they are being allowed to go back into the space and time of the 'real' world - the couple's first joint public act as husband and wife - and begin acting 'normally'.

As for the amount to be thrown, I doubt if there's a going rate, but perhaps it's another of those occasions when we can show to our friends and neighbours how generously we feel towards them ?

Maybe you have other ideas ? If so, please e-mail