The Saxon Fridstool (or Chair of Peace) is the oldest artefact in the Minster. It is at least 1,000 years old and is one of only two left in the country, the other being at Hexham Abbey.
The oldest object in the Minster is the Saxon Fridstool (‘freedom seat’ or ‘peace chair’). The only other is at Hexham Abbey where John of Beverley was Bishop before moving to York and then retiring to Beverley. Speculation surrounds the chair. Was it used by John? It is unlikely as archeological evidence suggests that the settlement at Beverley founded by John didn’t have stone buildings until after his death in 721.
The chair has been associated with the granting of sanctuary to fugitives (after 938). The suggestion is that a Canon would sit in it whilst the fugitive recited an oath. There is some evidence that this was practised elsewhere.
Whatever its use it seems to have survived when the Saxon settlement was abandoned, then re-established. After the Norman conquest it probably found its way into the new Norman building begun in about 1160. It would also have survived the damaging fire of 1188 which prompted the building of a new Gothic style church which began in about 1190.
Since then it has been sited in different locations in the Minster and there are plans to move it again from its current position adjacent to the High Altar to a more central position at the head of the nave.