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By Bill Ferguson of Exeter, with help from the Rev. Gordon Allen
St. Andrew’s-by-the-Sea may be the only Episcopal church in America which you enter by the lych-gate. That’s a rather broad claim (or supposition) but if there are others, we should know about them.
At St. Andrew’s there is a handsome stone wall open for passage, and that passage—a wood-roofed structure with a gate—is known technically as the lych-gate. Its forbears date back to pre-Reformation days (16th century). With the Protestant growth, the use of the lych-gate declined and there are few in England now although there are some which add a note of, shall we say, ecclesiastical charm to a country churchyard.
The purpose of the lych-gate was to be an important phase of a funeral. The complete lych-gate would have two benches, one on each side, and a table in the center. Bearers would carry the coffin and place it on the table. They’d sit and wait for the vicar to arrive, then process into the church behind him.
It was believed the ground outside the lych-gate was unconsecrated, hence the pause until the vicar approached on consecrated ground.
On a recent trip to England I found two such delightful “gates” in country churches. One (left) was at St. Mary’s in Hambleden near the Thames and near Henley. The other (below) was at the Church of the Holy Cross in Hoath, a tiny village near Canterbury. Many churches, of course, were built near roads in cities where there was no room for a gate. But the ones that still have these delightful reminiscences add a special charm to the church and the town. Unfortunately there are far fewer lych-gates in England now. Many being wood rotted away and some were torn down after the Reformation. Some, today, are “new” having been built over a couple of centuries ago.
I’d like to think there was a lych-gate in the church at Stoke Poges in Buckinghamshire where Thomas Gray wrote “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” in 1751.
The following was written by parishioner Max Smith in the summer of 2005 for this, the 130th anniversary year of St. Andrew’s-by-the-Sea. An edited version of it was published in Rye Reflections in August 2005. Click here for a direct link to that article; if that link ever becomes inactive, please but then simply go to RyeReflections.org and navigate to their August 2005 issue.
St. Andrew’s-by-the-Sea is a summer chapel of the Episcopal diocese of New Hampshire. Services are held on . . . Sundays during the summer at 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. and are conducted by a different clergyperson from different parishes and states. The chapel is open daily from June to September.
Episcopal services began in Rye Beach at the Casino, the social center for the nearby Farragut Hotel, the largest hotel in Rye, on July 17, 1864. The first service in the chapel was on August 4, 1876, when the building neared completion on land donated to the bishop of New Hampshire by Frank A. and Elizabeth Philbrick, the owners of the Farragut Hotel and most of the land surrounding the chapel site. The building was completed in 1877 when the bell tower and bell cast by the Holbrook Company were added.
The Farragut was located in today’s large vacant field at the south end of Church Road. Church Road at that time was a lane in a forest of trees with a wooden sidewalk leading to the chapel. Many people arrived by horseback or coach from the hotels, requiring the stone platform in the churchyard wall. The lich gate to the churchyard originated in medieval churches as a shelter for caskets before proceeding into the church.
Rye Beach and Little Boar’s Head were popular summer residences for successful business people from St. Louis, Chicago, and other Midwestern cities, as well as New York. Church services were very important to these summer residents, who expected to be able to attend their church. It is they who built this chapel. Generally, people brought their household staffs and lived in the hotels and boarding houses along the beach, the last of which are the Wentworth by the Sea and the Drake House. Some of these servants and employees of the hotels were African-Americans, who used St. Andrew’s for their own worship services and meetings.
St. Andrew’s, designed by the architectural firm of Walter T. Winslow and George H. Wetherell, is a unique example of a small rural stone chapel embellished by wooden trim, which owes much to both the Stick Style and late Gothic Revival style. Some think it looks like a boat upside down when inside the chapel. This small chapel owes much to the English parish church. Decorative wooden trusses, each of which is held together by 36 long metal bolts, support the slate roof.
The original windows were covered with white cotton cloth instead of glass until sometime later. The last painted window of the original windows installed to replace the cotton cloth coverings may be seen in the sacristy behind the organ. The rear circular window was designed by Charles Platt and executed in the copper foil technique by Tiffany and Company in 1909 to honor Richard Hoffman, an internationally acclaimed pianist from England, who served as organist and choirmaster at St. Andrew’s for 27 years. It replaced the original stained glass rose window.
The chapel has one other Tiffany window as well as one by John LaFarge, whose windows are seen at Trinity, Copley Square, Boston. The three windows behind the altar were originally shown at the Philadelphia Exposition in 1876 and brought to St. Andrew’s. They were given in memory of a young lad who lived only 4 years. The other windows were crafted by Connick Associates of Boston between 1958 and 1971. The window nearest the main door honors Ogden Nash, secretary for 25 years. (Note the profile.) Other significant features include the bas relief of St. Andrew near the pulpit which was created by parishioner and internationally renowned sculptress, Malvina Hoffman, who wrote the first history of St. Andrew’s.
During its history, the chapel has served as the chapel for the girls’ school at Stoneleigh Manor and later served the same function when that building was used as a military recovery hospital during World War II.
Today, volunteers and the contributions from attendees and friends maintain the chapel for future generations.
St. Andrew’s-by-the-Sea was placed on the National Register of Historic Places by the U.S. Department of Interior in 2002. A complete history is available at the chapel.
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