Why sanctuary?

The picture shows a Saxon Fridstool (chair of peace). It is one of only two that survive in England and is a symbol of the unbroken history of the site of Beverley Minster as the place of a Christian community. We have chosen the theme of sanctuary because Beverley Minster is unique in having the influence of a Saxon Saint and King in having the ‘right of sanctuary’.  Beverley also has three surviving sanctuary crosses, now scheduled ancient monuments, marking the limited area of sanctuary radiating out from the Minster doors. The British Library houses the original Beverley Sanctuary Book (1478 – 1540) listing the fugitives who claimed sanctuary. 

The origins of Beverley and the Minster can be traced back to Bishop John of York who founded a monastery on the site in the early years of the 8th century. He retired to the monastery after leaving York and died in 721. He was buried there. As a renowned teacher and healer he attracted huge numbers of pilgrims and was translated to sainthood in 1037. He trained the Venerable Bede who wrote an account of John’s life in his ‘History of the English Church’. Tradition has it that King Athelstan visited John’s tomb in 934 while leading his army north to fight against the Scots. Athelstan reputedly credited his victory to Bishop John and created sanctuary extending two miles from his tomb.

The Minster is one of only a few parish churches to contain the relics of a saint – John of Beverley. His presence has attracted pilgrims for over 1,000 years and today we welcome over 60,000 visitors annually. Visitors are attracted not only by the architecture of one of Europe’s finest Gothic buildings, but also as a place of sanctuary to retreat from the stresses of everyday life. People from all walks of life comment on the peace they find in the building and of the welcome they receive. Over 7,000 prayer candles are lit each year and many can be seen taking advantage of the inspirational ambience to pray, which is enhanced by daily midday prayers.

The sanctuary story resonates with the contemporary issue of refugees seeking sanctuary. The project team will work with the City of Sanctuary organisation formed in 2010 to help refugees and people seeking asylum. The school study packs will include information to give pupils an insight into attitudes of today’s society and for them to debate and compare this with the way in which migrant people were viewed in the Middle Ages.

Our Sanctuary Project seeks to tell the unique story of Beverley Minster – place of sanctuary.