Skip to main content

                          This is for Most Awesome Nana - who loves Mediaeval history!

The concept of sanctuary, as practiced in the Middle Ages, was quite startling. It didn’t represent a rendering of justice, or even forgiveness, but indeed was closer to the action of an amoeba in expelling waste, or a dangerous foreign particle, from its single cell. Imagine its the Middle Ages, and you have just got into a drunken brawl outside an alehouse in the city of Durham. Unfortunately, the man you are fighting falls and breaks his neck.  Almost before you can collect your befuddled thoughts a passerby sees what has happens and raises a ‘hue and cry’ – this means that he starts to pursue you and calls out to anyone within earshot to seize you. Recognizing that there is little likelihood of mercy at the hands of the mob, and more chance of you suffering rough justice than being handed over to the representatives of the Prince Bishop (for Durham was a County Palatine, with the Bishop wielding temporal as well as spiritual power), you take to your heels. You are literally running for your life, trying to keep ahead of the mob as you flee uphill in the direction of Durham Cathedral. Sprinting past the entrance to the Prince Bishop’s Castle and across the Castle Green you spy your goal, the iron-bound North Door of the Cathedral, complete with a grotesque brass door knocker. Reaching the door a few hundred yards ahead of the mob, you pound on the door knocker as if your life depended on it (which it does), screaming one word, over and over again, at the top of your lungs…..’Sanctuary! Sanctuary! Sanctuary!’ One of the two priests assigned to watch the door flings it open, drags you inside, and slams it in the face of your pursuers. Then it sinks in, and you fall to your knees, not with exhaustion, but with mounting horror as you realize that you have bought your life, but at a terrible price………..

All churches in the Middle Ages had a limited right of sanctuary in that an individual could shelter within and be temporarily safe from attack or pursuit, but only a few designated churches had a higher level of protection against the most serious crimes such as adultery, horse stealing or forgery of the King’s coinage. However, it was usually murder which drew the fugitive to these churches. Once inside, and claiming sanctuary, the criminal had a short period to decide whether to give himself up to the local authorities (and face trail and punishment) or confess his crimes and beg for forgiveness. What followed was laid down in the law of the land.

In Durham Cathedral, venerated in the North of England because of the tombs of St. Cuthbert and St Bede, the fugitive would be stripped and made to wear a plain black garment, which bore the symbol of St Cuthbert, a yellow cross on the left breast. Charity, in the form of simple food and drink, was provided but after his confession a countdown began. The fugitive, having decided to admit his guilt before God and the authorities, had a total of 37 days to leave England – forever! Of course, the only way to do that was by sea, and also by a designated port. This was usually the small North Sea port of Hartlepool, the official port of the County Palatine. Although this was little more than an overgrown fishing village, by the Middle Ages some cogs (an early form of  trading vessel, usually with a single large sail) would be visiting the port on a regular basis.

As soon as it could be arranged, the fugitive had to leave, on foot, carrying a cross, and accompanied by constables. He was handed over at each parish boundary to the next set of constables. Under no circumstances was he allowed to leave the designated highway – to stray would be counted as an attempt to flee, and he could be instantly put to death. On reaching Hartlepool, he would be put onboard the first vessel leaving for Continental Europe, never to return, on pain of death.

The sanctuary knocker you can see here on the North Door of Durham Cathedral is a modern copy of the 12th century original, correct down to the last detail, the original being far too precious to leave exposed to the elements; even the copy has suffered corrosive weathering, showing a patina of verdigris (a mix of copper carbonate and other salts of copper), which is typical of copper objects, or the copper alloys of brass and bronze. The original is on exhibition inside the wonderful Treasury Museum, located in the cloisters of the Cathedral.

This hideous mask of the beast, staring out from the North Door of the Cathedral, would remind the potential fugitive of the awful fate which was in store for him!

Originally posted to shortfinals on Fri Jan 25, 2013 at 12:37 PM PST.

Also republished by History for Kossacks.

Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags


More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

  •  I wonder if Julian Assange (13+ / 0-)

    thought of going to Durham Cathedral?

    The general who wins the battle makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought. The general who loses makes but few calculations beforehand. - Sun Tzu

    by Otteray Scribe on Fri Jan 25, 2013 at 12:45:43 PM PST

  •  What knockers! (9+ / 0-)

    Oh, thank you doctor!

    Please proceed, governor

    by Senor Unoball on Fri Jan 25, 2013 at 12:46:10 PM PST

  •  Interesting -- mask looks to me a bit like (6+ / 0-)

    Quetzalcoatl-type masks from south of our border. Is it meant to depict a particular beast, or a vengeful archangel?

    LBJ, Lady Bird, Anne Richards, Barbara Jordan, Sully Sullenberger, Ike, Drew Brees, Molly Ivins --Texas is no Bush league! -7.50,-5.59

    by BlackSheep1 on Fri Jan 25, 2013 at 01:08:58 PM PST

  •  Thank you, Ross. I am honored. (8+ / 0-)

    That looks like part of a doom frescoe to me.  

    Considering the state of "justice" at that time, I should think a nice sea voyage would have been the preferred option.  Are there statistics on how many people took sanctuary, and which option they chose?  Sometimes church records are amazingly detailed; at some churches, not so much.

    "May the forces of evil become confused on the way to your house." - George Carlin

    by Most Awesome Nana on Fri Jan 25, 2013 at 01:54:42 PM PST

    •  The Dean and Chapter should have records... (4+ / 0-)

      ....and when I next visit my niece (and her NEW baby) I shall make it one of my tasks to look into it.

      As I understand it, very few people chose NOT to be expelled once they chose sanctuary, on the grounds that either the waiting mob would render rough justice, or the Prince-Bishop's Court Palatine would be biased against the defendent.

      I LOVE Durham, as it contains many Mediaeval treasures (12th century bridge, one of two bridge chapels left in England, etc.). The Bishop exercised temporal powers as delegated from the King, so Durham was a County Palatine. Indeed, the signs on the roads as you enter the county to this day say 'Durham, Land of the Prince-Bishops'

      'Per Ardua Ad Astra'

      by shortfinals on Fri Jan 25, 2013 at 02:20:43 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  There is too much to see in England. One would (7+ / 0-)

        have to live there to even make a start.  And if you add Scotland and Wales......lifetimes are needed!

        "May the forces of evil become confused on the way to your house." - George Carlin

        by Most Awesome Nana on Fri Jan 25, 2013 at 03:00:29 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  I devoted more than half a life to studying ... (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          pittie70, KenBee, Debby

          ...the history, industrial archeology, landscape and architecture of The Isles...but only scratched the surface. MUCH more to come!

          I always wince when I come across an American lady who says, 'England? We did that...we were there for three days, one day in London, one day in Stratford, and one day in Bath ...oh, and Stonehenge on the way back to the hotel!'

          'Per Ardua Ad Astra'

          by shortfinals on Fri Jan 25, 2013 at 05:08:51 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  That would be what my daughter calls a "touron." (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            shortfinals, markdd

            I still call them ugly Americans and I have met more than I care to acknowledge.  

            I did one whirlwind tour - went to all the places where Henry VIII wives are buried.  Did that in 10 days.  And last year we flew to London for 2 days just so my granddaughter and I could have the fun of taking the Eurostar to Paris!

            But you have to give Americans a little break because almost all of them are trying to travel on a measly 2 weeks vacation a year.  And if they are paying all that money for airfare, they want to see as much as possible.

            "May the forces of evil become confused on the way to your house." - George Carlin

            by Most Awesome Nana on Fri Jan 25, 2013 at 06:17:09 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Alright, just for you, I shall... (0+ / 0-)

              ...forgive them! :)

              'Per Ardua Ad Astra'

              by shortfinals on Fri Jan 25, 2013 at 07:35:24 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

            •  I always chuckle at Ugly American references (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              shortfinals, Debby

              Since the Ugly American was the only one in the book who was in touch with the peasants of (South Viet Nam?).  Every other american was in cahoots with the corrupt rules and aristocrats.  They were so out of touch that they didn't even realize that the communists were re packaging American supplied rice as a gift of the Soviet people.....

              My son took a whirlwind tour of Europe; Rome, Paris, Versailles and London back in 98.  I don't think that they were on the ground for a week.  The sponsors turned the last part of the trip into the Princess Di Memorial Death Tour.  Chris managed to escape the trip to the fatal bridge and visit Jim Morrison's grave in Paris.  They wouldn't let them go the the British War Museum, but they had to pass by Kensington Palace.  He had to escape their clutches to get a real live order of fish and chips in London.

              “that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry.” Thomas Jefferson

              by markdd on Fri Jan 25, 2013 at 08:35:45 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  The Imperial War Museum (the original building) (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:

       on the other side of the Thames, and well away from Kensington Palace. I am sorry that he was subjected to the 'Death Tour'; even today, I work with an American lady in her 40s who is a 'Princess Di' fanatic, and I mean FANATIC!

                'Per Ardua Ad Astra'

                by shortfinals on Fri Jan 25, 2013 at 08:42:02 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  I'm worse at London geography (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:

                  than James May.  However, my son did organize a group excursion to the Torture Museum somewhere near the Tower of London.

                  “that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry.” Thomas Jefferson

                  by markdd on Fri Jan 25, 2013 at 08:49:36 PM PST

                  [ Parent ]

                •  How depressing. (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:

                  I was once complaining about the Princess Di adulation and a friend told me that while he admired what she tried to do (land mines/aids, etc), she never made him feel ashamed of what he could accomplish.  OTOH, Mother Teresa DID make him ashamed of his puny life.

                  That seemed a fair comparison.

                  "May the forces of evil become confused on the way to your house." - George Carlin

                  by Most Awesome Nana on Sat Jan 26, 2013 at 08:04:15 AM PST

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  I took an extreme position... (0+ / 0-)

                    ....I was the ONLY person in my immediate circle (and possibly wider) to actually disagree with the massive adulation/public wailing and rending of garments over Princess Diana.

                    I was instantly ostracised - but felt much better for it.

                    I KNOW real 'heroes'; I know people who care to a life-threatening extent. I met them flying at tree-top height, through a war zone, delivering grain in the middle of a terrible famine in Ethiopia, in 1983.

                    'Per Ardua Ad Astra'

                    by shortfinals on Sat Jan 26, 2013 at 07:36:19 PM PST

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  I'm not much into hero worship. Everyone has (1+ / 0-)
                      Recommended by:

                      clay feet.  

                      I do admire brave people doing extraordinary things but it falls far short of worship.  And I find the outpouring of public grief appalling.  

                      "May the forces of evil become confused on the way to your house." - George Carlin

                      by Most Awesome Nana on Sat Jan 26, 2013 at 09:26:57 PM PST

                      [ Parent ]

              •  The Ugly American quickly evolved a myth of its (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:

                own.  Bet if you asked 10 people on the street, they would say it was an American overseas acting like a jerk and have no clue there was a book.

                And we are UGLY.  Have you seen the clothes we wear?  Comfort is a wonderful thing - but please, please try to cover all that flesh!  

                Your poor son.  A shame - there is so much to see in London.  He will probably never take another guided tour.  Was it a school thing?

                And in my opinion, the best fish and chips are found in Glasgow at the Blue Lagoon - the one on Argyll Street behind the central train station. They really know their GREASE there!   :)

                "May the forces of evil become confused on the way to your house." - George Carlin

                by Most Awesome Nana on Sat Jan 26, 2013 at 08:13:33 AM PST

                [ Parent ]

  •  Interesting (7+ / 0-)

    Although my understanding of the single example with which I'm familiar is largely based on historical fiction relating to same, I had always gathered that the protection of the church could be as much against an unjust or unlawful indictment.

    The scenario of which I'm speaking, of course is that of Elizabeth Woodville, widow of Edward IV, along with her two sons (Edward V and the Duke of York—known to history as "the Princes in the Tower") and her daughter, also named Elizabeth, and other children. Once Edward IV had died and the regency and Protectorate had been given to brother-in-law Richard, she feared for her children's lives (or so the Tudor press has had us believe).

    She and the kids took sanctuary (safety) at Westminster for a period of time until an agreement was negotiated in which Richard would take the boys and guarantee their safety in the Tower (for other readers, as SF surely knows this, the Tower wasn't like the Bastille—an evil place where horrible things were done—it was a royal residence as well as a fortress and many "guests" were quite comfortable in their internment).

    Ignoring the centuries old debate about what happened to the princes, both Elizabeth's and the others ultimately were able to leave sanctuary well before Richard's fortunes turned at Bosworth.

    I've significantly oversimplified the history, as I'm intending to try and fold the notion of "safety" into your descriptions—and they may not be that far removed from one another.

    I'm currently reading Phillipa Gregory's The Red Queen (my third of hers), which is just the latest in 25 years of studying about the Cousins' Wars. Your post is icing.

    •  The Wars of the Roses threw the Kingdom ... (6+ / 0-)

      ..into total turmoil. The barons had been able to build up their 'liveried' retinues to such an extent that they could wage minor wars against each other, before they even chose sides.

      When I was with Leicestershire Museum Service, we held the battle site of  Bosworth Field, as part of our 'estate'. I remember that Ed Moody (our Head Designer, at the time), build some superb scale figures to go into the then-new Visitor Centre.

      I now understand that it is likely that it will be confirmed that the remains of Richard III have been discovered (and apparantly he DID have a curved spine)

      'Per Ardua Ad Astra'

      by shortfinals on Fri Jan 25, 2013 at 02:48:39 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  How fascinating (6+ / 0-)

        In this country, I think we're largely in the hump-back, monster camp of Richard III observors. I've gotten other perspectives (including the Ricard III Society—I'd actually looked at their website years ago), among which are a couple of Pitkin Pictorial pamphlets. In them they posit that (paraphrased) "recent research finds that he was well regarded in his time". I don't know if there is a bias in those books and I don't know what the common wisdom is in the UK, but at least I'm open to fresh facts, should they appear.

        I was amused by the comment in the article that they would "test against the DNA of Richard's descendants". Any direct descendants, if they existed, have probably disappeared in the mists of time. His one legitimate son died young and likely before able to father offspring. While there were two known bastard children, the male might have produced children but any of the female's progeny is quite murky.

        That doesn't rule out descendants of niece Elizabeth, however, who would share some DNA markers with her uncle. Her bloodline is unbroken to the current monarch, although through several sidesteps.

        Those sidesteps, by the way, may result in some awkward notions among the royal family. I saw a program a few years ago prduced and narrated by Prince Edward. In a scene at the Royal Armory at the Tower, he pointed to a suit of armor and proudly announced that it "was worn by my ancestor, Henry VIII".

        I jumped up immediately and shouted at the screen, "no he wasn't!" Henry VIII may have had six wives, but he only had three children, and none of them produced heirs. The line continued through his sister. He's actually Henry's 13th great grand nephew.

        I would have thought that the third in line for succession (at best, and only early on), having little prospect for the throne, would have had plenty of time to get the family genealogy straight.

        •  As it turns out… (5+ / 0-)

          They have found another source: Canadian Descendant (sic). The line is much as I suggested, although instead of through Mrs. Tudor (Edward's daughter, Elizabeth), it's through another of Edward/Richard's sisters.

          I love this stuff.

          •  As always... (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            ...mitochondrial DNA rules! :)

            Let's hope. The question is, IF it turns out to be a match, it would be interesting if the current 'Saxe-Coburg-Gotha' descendents actually decide, for PR reasons, to offer a Royal burial to their murdered 'non-ancestor'. I know that British Royal remains are scattered from Winchester to Rouen.

            I suppose the easiest way would be to place his remains in the empty tomb in Leicester Cathedral !

            'Per Ardua Ad Astra'

            by shortfinals on Fri Jan 25, 2013 at 05:24:08 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  On my first trip to London… (0+ / 0-)

              …we visited Westminster Abbey (who doesn't?) and after oohing and ahing over the nave, the Coronation Chair (with the Stone of Scone—since returned to the Auld Sod), and Poet's Corner, we repaired downstairs where we saw Wren's model. Wandering around I found a small, simple marker in one of the cubbies that said "John of Gaunt". I didn't have the grasp of the Royal Succession I do know, although the name was vaguely familiar. It seems to me, at this distant remove, that there was a lot of room for other personages in the area.

              Now since that was the patriarch of the House of Lancaster (spelling all this out for the colonials), and the Beauforts, and all he merited was that obscure location, perhaps they could squeeze a York in there, too.

              After all, up in Peterborough Cathedral, Mary Queen of Scots lay practically next to Katherine of Aragon—an equally awkward pairing (until Mary's son moved her "downtown").

              On a somewhat related note (well, Beafort related), have you read Katherine by Anya Seton? Best book ever, not made into a move, but should have. Seton was the daughter of Ernest Thompson Seton, founder of the American Boy Scouts. You Brits have some history of your own in that field.

        •  This is the Prince Edward who said he.. (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          pittie70, KenBee

          ...wanted to form a TV production company (after being a 'gofer' for Andrew LLoyd-Weber for a spell), and promised that he would NOT make any films about the Royal Family...and then proceeded to do ONLY that. Please note that he is the ONLY Prince, of this generation, who has not been awarded a Dukedom.

          'Per Ardua Ad Astra'

          by shortfinals on Fri Jan 25, 2013 at 05:13:30 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Made me go look (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            Had no immediate recollection of who he was.  I'd guess he PO'ed the old man by not staying in the military.

            “that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry.” Thomas Jefferson

            by markdd on Fri Jan 25, 2013 at 08:45:08 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  You do NOT quit the Royal Marines.... (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              ...initial course, because you can't hack it, you keep going until you are 'carried out on your shield' or fail on medical grounds. I think that they wanted another branch of the Services with a Royal in it. Can't even THINK why they thought the Royal Marines would be suitable - he might have just about made it through Sandhurst and into the Army, but the initial Marine training is brutal........

              'Per Ardua Ad Astra'

              by shortfinals on Fri Jan 25, 2013 at 08:55:03 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

  •  nice knocker! (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Joy of Fishes, exlrrp, shortfinals

    will search for a repro or build one, haha, only change it so it has a forked tongue that activates the clunker hanging in a beard below the chin...or something.

    can I get it in platinum?

    This machine kills Fascists.

    by KenBee on Fri Jan 25, 2013 at 04:20:23 PM PST

  •  Knock Knock (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    shortfinals, Ahianne, markdd

    Who's there?
    Sam and Janet
    Sam and Janet who?
    Sam and Janet eeeeevvvening!!

    Happy just to be alive

    by exlrrp on Fri Jan 25, 2013 at 05:09:21 PM PST

  •  Thanks SF. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    didn't know sanctuary was temporary.  Thought that you were confined to the church for a very long time.

    “that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry.” Thomas Jefferson

    by markdd on Fri Jan 25, 2013 at 08:46:30 PM PST

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site