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.