Through the Hatch

Quick question.

Can anyone tell me what this is?

It’s in a cathedral I visited in France this summer: here’s a closer look at it.

I’m curious as to what it is. It looks like it was once open to the outside of the building (externally there’s a locked wooden door covering it), and I was completely intrigued when I saw it – particularly by the smaller hatch in the middle of the grille.

Is it some kind of alms hatch? Or perhaps to offer communion or something outside the cathedral? It definitely opened for something, anyway, once upon a time. The first thing I thought about was anchorites, but it doesn’t feel right at all.

Anyone? There’s no real reason, by the way – other than me being nosey, that is….

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9 comments

  1. I can’t be completely sure from the picture (it looks a little different from the few I’ve seen) but many churches did indeed have small hatches where they would offer, alms or communion to peasants or lepers etc. I can’t for the life of me remember what these holes where called, but they were to prevent undesirables coming in the church whilst still allowing then the grace of God. Kind huh!

    1. The ever benificent Catholic church. Humm.

      That certainly sounds like the most likely use for it: I think there’s a bit of me that wishes it was slightly more macabre (you know, it being a hatch for them to poke sharp sticks out of or to fling holy water at any legions of the Undead which might have collected outside because there’s not much else to do on a Tuesday evening in Brittany…). I feel vaguely embarrassed at not knowing, particularly as I’m technically supposed to be a medievalist!

      This cathedral (Quimper) is a bit unusual in that it bends ever so slightly in the middle: most of them from this period are dead straight, end to end, but this one was actually designed to go round a patch of slightly swampy ground. As the most sainted Kevin McCloud would say: “It’s about integrity.”

    1. I fear this may indeed be the case, Mark…

      Although I reallyreally would like it if someone told me it was a Demon Hatch, for performing exorcisms or something. It would scare me slightly that they might know this, but that is Not The Point.

  2. I think it’s called a Leper’s Squint, or Leper’s Hole, the sick were not permitted to enter a place of worship so this was a way they could watch the service and, as has been commented, receive alms. Or arms for the more serious lepers.

    1. I think that’s it! Apparently the posh name for it is a hagioscope. It was certainly in the right area of the cathedral.

      Hurrah! You’re all terribly, terribly clever: cookies all round 🙂

      Also, ten points to Andy for the pun. You just don’t see enough limb-based puns these days.

  3. Hagioscope that’s the one thank you. Heck that was like avoiding someone at a party because you couldn’t remember their name. Apart from the party and the avoiding bit!

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