In medieval England, people accused of wrong-doing feared for their lives.

Their victims were inclined to take matters into their own hands and seek revenge before justice could take its course.

For this reason places of sanctuary were established to shelter people as they waited for up to 30 days before being handed over for trial.

Beverley was a popular place of sanctuary having been given the privilege by King Athelstan in the year 938. What’s more, a small notebook has survived listing the names of the sanctuary seekers from the years 1478 – 1539. It is kept in the British Library.

Although they came from all over England a large number came from the East Riding of Yorkshire and these are shown on the interactive map below.

Open the map on the link below and select a flag to find out more

The Sanctuary Book recording the sanctuary seekers from 1478 – 5139 has been digitised by the British Library as part of the Sanctuary Project. Permission has been granted to display the images on the touchscreen and in the exhibition graphics. The images may be made available for personal research but not published or further disseminated without prior permission from the British Library. Researchers may use the images in a thesis, dissertation or other academic work that is covered by fair dealing, but if they then wished to publish their work (beyond storage in a digital thesis repository) they would have to seek permission from the British Library. To have access under these terms, please apply using the contact below.

Staying at the Minster

Between 1428 and 1539, 439 people sought sanctuary. In the busiest year 18 people arrived. In other years it was only a few. It is likely that they came alone. Perhaps their families joined them later. Once in the Minster the reason for their seeking sanctuary was recorded. They swore an oath of allegiance and promised not to carry weapons. They could stay for 30 or 40 days (it has varied over the years). Sanctuary men were also known as Grithmen.

Sanctuary men would be provided with a bed and food.

Seeking sanctuary often meant confessing your crime. In return for support Sanctuary men would help around the church, taking part in services and ringing the bells. They also did manual work in Beverley. The time spent in sanctuary provided space for everyone involved to calm down and gave time for reflection. The clergy probably helped to sort things out.

The Minster would have been a busy place, with multiple services a day and a steady stream of pilgrims worshipping at the tomb of Saint John.