Posted on 10 September 2021
The exhibition - funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and developed by the University’s Centre for the Study of Christianity and Culture - launches with a celebration event on Sunday 12th September at 12pm.
It is part of a project to tell the remarkable story of ‘Sanctuary in Beverley’, a town that was granted extensive medieval rights of sanctuary.
The exhibition will explore real stories of sanctuary seekers past and present, through interactive content created by the Centre, including dramatised historical accounts and moving modern testimonies.
Beverley Minster was known as a place where those seeking a safe haven from mob justice or family vengeance for alleged crimes such as horse theft, coining and cullying could seek sanctuary and plead their innocence.
Under laws originating from AD693, fugitives who reached a two-mile limit around the Minster could claim sanctuary under special privileges afforded to it as one of the premier churches in the north of England at the time. Unusually, some people could choose to live out their lives within the town’s boundaries in return for immunity from prosecution.
Dr Louise Hampson, Research Fellow and Heritage Research and Partnerships Coordinator at The Centre for the Study of Christianity and Culture, said: “We know the names and circumstances of over 100 fugitives thanks to court records and a register which lists those seeking sanctuary”.
The Centre picked out seven historical fugitives and, with a local film company, scripted and shot short dramatised films to illustrate their stories.
The fugitives include:
Dr Hampson added: “We focused on the crimes which could resonate or have parallels with people's experience today: debt, domestic abuse, knife crime, fraud, theft of a horse. These help bring this remote history to life and invite the viewer to explore their reactions, opening up some grey areas which may make them reflect on their attitudes and opinions.”
The team were also keen to explore the idea and perceptions of sanctuary today, whether as a brief respite from daily stresses or the plight of refugees fleeing war, poverty, persecution, or climate crisis.
“We wanted to challenge some assumptions and consider how words like a refugee, asylum seeker, and migrant are used interchangeably and given judgmental value depending upon the views of the user,” Dr Hampson added.
The team also filmed interviews with three Syrian refugees who resettled in East Yorkshire and heard their powerful testimonies.
“We talked about their experiences, but also about their hopes and plans for their new lives, putting the faces of real people to a contentious issue which is often presented as a faceless 'problem’”, Dr Hampson said.
“We used these films not only on the touchscreen in the exhibition but in a rolling screen presentation to literally put their stories in front of visitors as they walk around this amazing medieval church.”
Visit Beverley Minster’s website for more information on the project.
Researchers from the Centre for the Study of Christianity and Culture at the University of York developed interactive content for the ‘Sanctuary project’ at Beverley Minster, which tells the story of the town’s history as a place of sanctuary for over 1,000 years.
Explore more of our research.