People

Sanctuary

What happened if you sought sanctuary?

In the days before a police force, seeking sanctuary saved innocent lives. People accused of a crime could go to a holy place and be given protection from being killed before there had been a trial. You can read about it in the Bible (Exodus 21:13 – 14).

In Britain some churches were places where people could seek sanctuary. Once there, the accused could stay for up to 40 days, and they had to either stand trial; or say they were guilty, lose everything they owned and leave the country forever – or until the king said they could come back. People given sanctuary had to stay in the church – they were not allowed more than 50 paces away from the door.

In 1243 John de Rechich was given sanctuary at St. Andrew’s Priory, Stogursey in Somerset – and then ran away before his trial. The Benedictine monks there were in trouble for not keeping their side of the agreement and had to pay a big fine.

To make sure it never happened again they fixed a big iron ring at the front of the church, and anyone given sanctuary was chained to it where everyone could see them!

 

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