Monk on the run

In 1512 George Akeryg, a “monastic oblate” (novice monk) of St Mary’s abbey, Merevale, Warwickshire, sought sanctuary at St Leonard’s Hospital in York. He evidently wasn’t happy about his religious vocation.

Akeryg, on the run from his abbey, ended up in the city of York. He went to St Mary’s abbey, where he stole a silver girdle from an image of the Virgin. Statues in medieval churches were frequently adorned with such precious items, bequeathed by the pious.

Presumably having been detected, he ran from St Mary’s abbey to nearby St Leonard’s hospital and there he claimed sanctuary. (A hospital was a form of religious house, dedicated to caring for the ill, elderly, and infirm.)

Akeryg called for the coroner to confess and abjure the realm. Both the clerk of the hospital’s “exchequer” and the coroner of the City of York came to hear Akeryg’s confession, perhaps because they had an agreement to share jurisdiction or just because no one was quite sure who should be in charge. Akeryg then abjured the realm and they assigned him the port of Hull from which to go into exile.

So there’s a few unusual things about this case: that the felon was a monk-in-training; that he’d stolen a devotional object; and that he chose to go into exile rather than taking a chance on pleading benefit of clergy.

Though here St Leonard’s hospital was treated as a parish church, offering temporary asylum before abjuration of the realm, in 1517 another seeker took permanent asylum, as if in a chartered sanctuary. The usual confusions and inconsistencies about sanctuary procedures abound.

York Minster Archives, MS 2/6e, Register of St. Leonard’s Hospital, fols 44v, 45v. Top image source

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