The Friends

Welcome to the Friends of Beverley Minster  

Contributing to the preservation and enhancement of one of Europe’s great buildings

Roger Lewis, Chair of the Friends Council, writes…


At just about the time of the ‘lockdown’ the Minster published ‘Sanctuary: Beverley – a town of refuge’. Not, you may say, a good time, with the Minster shop just closing and no easy way to pay a modest £6 to enjoy it.

This is the first fruit of the sanctuary interpretation project, funded by the National Heritage Lottery Fund with match funding from the Friends of Beverley Minster.

The book is a revised and (significantly) re-designed version of the earlier book with the same title, published way back in 1982. The revision (carried out by the same author, Martyn Kirby) benefits from the latest scholarship: sanctuary in medieval England has developed as a historical field in recent years. Local historian, Professor Barbara English along with Cambridge doctoral student Edward Everett commented helpfully on a draft.

Beverley – a Town of Refuge
Author: Martyn Kirby
ISBN: 987-1-5262-0830-9
Size: 215 x 215 mm
Binding: Paperback
Pages: 44
Date published: March, 2020
UK £6.00


The most obvious new element is the design and illustration. Every page carries a photograph or other visual – including spectacular full colour photographs of the Minster and its setting and items associated with sanctuary. The design and lay out is the work of Mervyn King, who also managed all stages through to publication.

The book explains how sanctuary worked. Crosses two miles from the Minster marked out the start of the safe area. Three crosses survive (see the map in the book); a cross at Molescroft disappeared, possibly during the construction of the railway in the mid 19th century. The closer the fugitive got to the Minster’s altar, the safer he or she became. Beverley was a leading sanctuary town in the north, along with Durham; Ripon and Hexham also had sanctuary rights, the latter church was also associated with St John of Beverley.

The crosses form one visible link with this history. The other link is the fridstool to the north of the Minster’s main altar. This is almost certainly Saxon in date; Hexham has a similar chair.

Sanctuary towns were given rights to shelter people running from the law. Fugitives made for such towns to gain time –to prepare their legal case, seek pardon or plan longer-term refuge. Many were debtors; others were thieves or murderers (the nature of the crime did not seem significant).

Successful fugitives could stay for 30 days. Arrangements for their accommodation would have been made by Minster officials (and we need to remember that, until the mid-16th century, the Minster would have operated as a big business, with about 75 staff of different kinds). The quality of the accommodation would probably have varied depending on the social status of the person seeking sanctuary.

If no other arrangement had been made (such as a pardon granted) the fugitive would be outlawed – escorted to a port and forced to abjure the realm for life. It appears that at Beverley there was an alternative: to stay on in the town as a ‘sanctuary man’ for a further 30 days and even after that, to remain ‘a servant of the church for life’ (the oath they would have to swear to this effect is reproduced in the book).

Records survive listing those who gained sanctuary. The Sanctuary Book covers the period 1478-1539 (after that point sanctuary declined though it wasn’t ended formally until 1624). 493 people (three of them women) gained sanctuary in that time, an average of about eight per year. The record gives details of their occupation, their alleged crime and their home area.

There must have been tension between the ‘sanctuary men’ and the legal system. Also tensions within the town, ‘the sanctuary men’ seen as both outsiders and criminals. The vicar looks at modern parallels in a closing reflection.

As soon as we return to normal I hope you’ll visit the Minster shop or online shop to buy this new publication – or buy several, as especially given its attractive appearance it would make an ideal gift.

How we spend our funds

Part of the ‘Pilgrim’ stained glass window by Helen Whittaker, 2004.

In recent years we have used the funds provided by our members in a variety of ways within our broad objectives.

  • We have helped to maintain the fabric of the building (e.g. work on the great west window).
  • We have provided new artwork (as with the pilgrim figures, furnishings and window in the retro-quire).
  • We have opened access (e.g. by funding a wheelchair-friendly route).
  • We have supported the development of an enhanced sound system.
  • We have contributed to the continuing musical tradition by helping with the restoration of the organ, by ‘kick-starting’ the appointment of an assistant organist, by providing scholarships for choristers and by purchasing a Steinway grand piano.
  • We paid for the re-fitting of the Minster shop.
  • We paid the majority of the costs of developing and maintaining the Minster’s website.
  • We have provided furnishings, such as a chest for the storage of altar frontals.
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The data is needed primarily to:  send you details of the Charity’s activities (for example via newsletters and the annual report), invite you to the Annual General Meeting, inform you of the need to renew your membership, administer outings and events, send you copies of occasional publications and apply for Gift Aid.
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Charity No. 501302