Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Romaldkirk’s Devil’s Door (NY995222)

Early 20th century plan of Romaldkirk Church
[from A History of the County of York,
North Riding: Volume 1 (1914)]

A sprinkling of Britain’s parish churches retain a curious structural feature known as a ‘Devil’s Door’. Such churches are mainly found in Sussex, but we have one here in the North-East at Romaldkirk.

If it had one, a church’s 'Devil's Door' was in the north wall of the building – the north side belonging to Old Nick. The purpose of the same appears to have been two-fold, and both reasons go back to the early Middle Ages. Firstly, this door was traditionally left open during a christening to let out the evil spirits thought to reside in every child prior to baptism. Moreover, unbaptised ‘heathens’ could, if they so wish, enter the church via this route – remember that such sites were also considered sacred to pagans in the very earliest days of Christianity. In time the entrance/exit point became merely symbolic and, following the Reformation, most of these doors were removed or blocked up – in many cases to ‘shut the Devil out’.

In the case of the above plan, the Devil’s Door is not the ‘blocked doorway’ in the chancel, but rather the slab shown under the words ‘window over’ in the North Aisle. You can find interior and exterior views of the feature on Antony Cairns’ Flickr album (the internal shot shows a slender stone slab inserted in the doorway during the Victorian era).