Mounted on the North door of Durham Cathedral, this is a replica of the original medieval sanctuary knocker and represents the ancient privelege of sanctuary once granted to criminal offenders at Durham cathedral. Criminals could seek refuge at Durham by loudly banging the knocker to alert the attentions of the watchers who resided in two small chambers overlooking the door.
A watcher would then invite the criminal inside the cathedral. Upon entering the cathedral the criminal had to exchange his clothes for a black robe with a yellow cross of St Cuthbert imprinted on the left shoulder. He would then confess the details of his crime before a coroner and was allowed to remain inside the cathedral for a period of thirty seven days. Here he was provided with food and water paid for by the church. Before or on the thirty seventh day the criminal was expected to leave the country by an assigned port or else face execution. In the case of Durham the assigned port was usually Hartlepool The criminals were escorted to the sea port by the constables of each parish they passed through. On no account was the criminal allowed to stray from the king's highway during the journey as this was punishable by death. Offenders seeking sanctuary at Durham came from every part of the country and included burglars, cattle stealers and horse thieves. More usually the offence was Murder.
(information from here)
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