“Girthmen,” religious processions, and sanctuary at Ripon

In 1458, six sanctuary men (“gyrthmanii”) at Ripon Minster in Yorkshire were censured for not participating in the minster’s Rogation procession, in which parishioners ritually paraded around a parish’s boundaries to mark them out. The “Girthmen” T. Plumer, R. Morton, E. Skathlok, J. Skathlok, H. Jonson, and W. Topshawe – probably all debtors – explained they dared not leave their house “because of fear of creditors and pain of imprisonment,” worrying that they’d be arrested when the procession went beyond the sanctuary’s limits.

The minster’s clergy rejected this, for on rogation days, “all are immune from vexation.” The sanctuary men were to be punished by being whipped before upcoming holy day processions, although John Skathlok was exempted because he was “old and mentally infirm [mentecaptus].”


This is the first evidence for sanctuary at Ripon. In the middle of the 15th century more religious houses offering “chartered” sanctuary begin to show up in the records, although many others decided it was not worth the trouble.

The church at Ripon. Source

Fowler, Acts of Chapter of Ripon, 72-73. Top image: British Library.

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