A certain mystery surrounds the stone seat currently positioned to the left of the High Altar in Beverley Minster. This area, known as the Sanctuary, could have given the chair its name, rather than suggesting any connection with the right of sanctuary. It is also known as a frithstool or fridstool meaning ‘chair of peace’.
It is very rare; the only other surviving fridstool is in Hexham Abbey, where St John of Beverley was Bishop (687-705). In 714 John retired to his monastery in the tranquility of the countryside we now call Beverley.
Archeology supports the view that a stone building existed on the site of the current Minster in the 10th century. The Saxon chair, it is assumed, survived from this building. However, there is no specific connection with St John, despite speculation that it may have been a Bishop’s throne.
It is fair to assume that it was moved into the new Romanesque building begun in 1160 and that it survived the fire of 1188. The fire did such damage to the church that it was replaced from 1190 by a new building in the Gothic style. This is the Minster you see today.
In other places a stone chair was used in the oath-making that accompanied the process of a fugitive being given the right of sanctuary, although no evidence of this exists in Beverley.
The historian John Leland visited Beverley in 1540 and said there were markings on the back of the fridstool which he said could be translated as:
‘this stone chair is called the Fridstool or Chair of Peace by the English at which the fleeing offender having arrived is always completely safe.’
However, no legible marks have survived.