“The town of Crayke, which is a sanctuary”

The intertwining of sanctuary with other jurisdictional rights allowed churches’ dependent properties to offer shelter to felons – as at Durham Cathedral’s Yorkshire manor at Crayke. At a 1521 coroner’s inquest in the city of York over Gregory Honchonson, the jurors reported that Thomas Feysche of York, lumberer, had attacked and killed Honchonson in the city’s suburbs at Paynley Crofts (Northeast of the minster).

Afterwards Feysche fled 13 miles North of York to “the town of Crayke, which is a sanctuary.” Crayke had shared the bishop’s palatinate jurisdiction for centuries, but the only two known instances of sanctuary there date from the 1520s.

The other Crayke sanctuary case also involved a York homicide: in 1525 Leonard Langstaff, yeoman, was accused of killing Nicholas Fyssher, smith, at Walmgate. The jurors described him as fleeing to as “a parcel of the liberty and sanctuary of the blessed Cuthbert of Durham.”

Crayke had a special tie to St Cuthbert: in 685, Ecgfrith of Northumberland granted it to the bishop as a place to rest for travel between Durham and York. His continued presence there (the church was dedicated to him) conferred special protection, just as at his cathedral. This idea is itself not so surprising; what might surprise some is that the idea of saintly protection of sinners had not only survived but was flourishing in the 1520s – and not (I’d argue) as a medieval relic (so to speak…) but as a current and developing concept.

Cuthbert’s asylum at Crayke allowed both accused killers to escape the noose. Neither were brought to trial and both were later outlawed.

TNA, KB 9/486, m36; KB 9/502, m89; KB 29/153, m17; KB 29/158, m22; VCH Yorks., North Riding, 2:119-24. Top image Photo by P Buckingham. Source

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