Galilee Porch

DSCN3945-2Many medieval Cistercian churches were entered through something called a galilee or ‘paradise’. It was a porch (it’s sometimes also called a narthex because why have one word when there’re are so many available to bother and bewilder the casual lover of monastic ruins) situated on the west front of the church. It was an important starting point for religious processions into the church. It was also a popular place for patrons to be buried. In Rievaulx there are the remains of eight graves in the galilee. There was often also a smaller altar. The galilee porch at Tintern Abbey was said to house  a miraculous image of the Virgin Mary.

In Cistercian monasteries there was initially no place for lay visitors in the church during canonical hours and mass but it was recognised that visitors should be admitted on very holy days such as Easter, though historians are unclear where the guests sat once they were inside the church. The other thing to be remembered is that these guests were largely male as Cistercians took a dim view of women entering their precincts although they did provide hospitality to noble guests outside the abbey.

These days it isn’t just monasteries and cathedrals that have galilee porches. A number of parish churches have them as well and in my perusing of the Internet I discovered that the reason the porch is called a galilee- allegedly- is because the Corpus Christi procession finished in the porch at the point where Christ leads the disciples after his resurrection into galilee (accessed 8th July 2015 at 18.00) The writer of the aforementioned website places the blame for the name squarely on the Victorians.

2 thoughts on “Galilee Porch

  1. Nice article.I saw such as mentioned in a very small anceint church in the Welsh hills near Abergavenny. I was simoply rambling on that hillside ona sunny day three years since . Then out of the green leaved woodland came a view that stopped me in my tracks. Not only a porch but also, once inside, one of the very rare Rood srceens to have survived the wrath of Royal Henry. Ancient 12th century carved wood, gold as the sunlight that so came unto the altar. I stood in some unreal stance as my eyes took in such beauty that rose from the floor to twice my 6ft height and my wonder as to how it had stood so long now over came me.
    I was to discover that being so hiden and as it was in the protection of locals in this wild place had saved a real treasure.The little church is far older again in truth,Wells of deep water and little pools had once been a baptismal place run by a sainted monk remain all around the exterior walls of all that is holy.
    I will not annouce its location and it is hard to find; as if one is truely interested one will find it eventually. Today when thieves have no respect a church so lovely may have its end. Sadly in my mind I see Henry V111 in the eyes of all who wish for riches and see not the riches shared in the finding of something so rare as a real rood screen in a church unaltered by moth or rust and stands untouched, at the very gate of time.

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