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The Lych-Gate


Church of St Mary, Pulborough, Sussex

Looking at the drawing, I can see how beautifully and precisely built the lych-gate is, with its stone pitching and all its timbers of oak, and I wish I could meet the man who built it.

He was a man who had a rational relationship with the world and a quiet love for well-crafted construction. He had inherited a tradition of building and expertise created over centuries, and he lived in a community of people who shared his passions.

This craftsmanship had come at a cost, as it always does. It had defied plague, starvation, and the quarrels of princes spilling across England, harming even those who had no interest in the quarrels or the princes. His craft had been nurtured by the common sense and inventiveness of the people and by their dignity and innate sense of fitness and harmony.

These were his invisible supports – they held up his lych-gate as much as his oak timbers did. He forgot himself when he worked, and thought only of his materials and his design, as all good craftsmen do. He incarnated the ideas of beauty and truth in his work – truth, which derives from the same root as the word for oak in Old English. It is a quality that endures.

When the man died, he was brought to his lych-gate, as all the people of his parish who died were, and there on his stone floor and under the roof he had built, his community sent him on his way with their prayers.