Medieval Sanctuary


‘But for much of the Middle Ages, sanctuary was a hotly debated subject. In some places the area of sanctuary around a given religious building was enormous – the boundaries being clearly marked by special ‘sanctuary posts’. […]

Most sanctuaries, however, could only offer a short-term solution to the average criminal’s woes. If he refused to leave at the end of the forty days, he was as good as dead. Any layman who even communicated with him after the forty days were up would be hanged. When he finally emerged, he would be immediately executed on the spot, unless he swore on the Gospels to ‘abjure the realm’. In which case he would be issued with a crude sackcloth garment, without a belt, and a wooden cross to carry and he would have to make for the nearest port. There he would have to take the first ship out of England, and for every day he failed to find a passage, he would have to wade into the sea up to his knees. […]

The majority of them just threw away their wooden crosses on a lonely stretch of road and melted away into the woods to take up a new identity or join the many bands of outlaws that plagued the country.’

– Jones. T., Ereira. A. 2004. Terry Jones’ Medieval Lives London, Great Britain: BBC Books (2005) p. 79-80

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