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Why are kissing gates so called and what is their significance as entrances to graveyards?

How did 'kissing gates' get their name? Dan Cossins investigates…

Published: November 28, 2016 at 7:32 am
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The kissing gate is often the subject of chatter about the origins of its amorous-sounding name. Consisting of a semi-circular, square or V-shaped enclosure on one side and a hinged gate that swings between two shutting posts, it allows one person at a time to pass through but keeps livestock out.

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As for the title, the prosaic answer is that it derives from the fact that the hinged part touches – or ‘kisses’ – both sides of the enclosure rather than being securely latched like a normal gate.

That hasn’t stopped many clinging to a more romantic notion: that the first person to pass through would have to close the gate to the next person, providing an opportune moment to demand a kiss in return for entry.

Kissing gates are commonly found at the entrance to church graveyards but there is no evidence that this has any symbolic significance.

Trevor Yorke, author of English Churches Explained (Countryside Books, 2010), says: “I am not aware of any direct symbolism with kissing gates at the entrance to the graveyard. It’s a good way to keep livestock from ruining the grass while allowing people to enter.” Certainly a kissing gate is easier to negotiate than a stile for churchgoers in their Sunday best.

Answered by Dan Cossins, freelance journalist

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This article was first published in 2012 in BBC History Magazine

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