Abjuring from a chartered sanctuary

Though most who came to Durham cathedral for sanctuary requested time-unlimited asylum, it was still possible to request a coroner to abjure the realm rather than stay long-term in the cathedral precinct.

In 1497, a man named Colson from Wolsingham, county Durham, had been arrested for theft and put in prison, but managed to escape. He fled to Durham cathedral and, standing near the tomb of St Cuthbert (a rarely noted detail), he asked for a coroner.

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Colson confessed his felony to the coroner and abjured the realm. By Durham’s palatinate jurisdiction, all Colson’s gear (clothes, etc.) were forfeit to the cathedral sacristan, and so Colson had to strip down to his shirt and hand everything over.

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Once he’d surrendered all his gear, the sacristan granted it back to him as an act of charity. The Durham sheriff then delivered Colson over to the local constable so he could be conveyed from constable to constable, carrying a white wooden cross, to the nearest seaport, never to return.

SDSB 30-1. Image of Durham Cathedral: source.

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