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Finding Sanctuary

July 18, 2014

Durham Cathedral Sanctuary Knocker
Finding Sanctuary is the unifying theme of the poetry collection that I am currently working on.
As the summer holidays approach and we head off for the beach, the mountains or our own back gardens for a period of peace and respite, I invite you to consider where you find sanctuary in your daily life.
Is it a room in your house, a chat with a friend or a particular place that you like to visit?
Yesterday I went to Durham which is one of those places which appeals to my soul. Somewhere where I like to spend ‘time out’ when I have a few hours to spare. It is also the place I visited to seek inspiration when I first started this new poetry series back in January.
I have always thought of the sanctuary knocker on the cathedral door as more of a green man/pagan symbol so was intrigued when I read that it has also been interpreted as being a lion or a Chinese dragon mask.
In mediaeval times people seeking sanctuary from the hue and cry would use it to knock on the cathedral door and be admitted for a period of 37 days.
During this time they either had to come to terms with their fate or leave the country on the first boat to set sail from the port of Hartlepool.
I have used this idea in a previous story set in the twelfth century but have not yet found the answer to why sanctuary could only be claimed for 37 days.
An historian friend vaguely recalls it having something to do with Anglo-Saxon laws.
Does anyone know the answer?

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From → Poetry

2 Comments
  1. I can’t explain the 37 days – 28 would be a lunar month – but the substance of what your historian friend said was what I was taught at my CoE junior school in Durham (so must be true!) For me, there’s spiritual sanctuary in my daily walks to the sea, though, contrarily, when I think of the word sanctuary I also think of a place of safety which would have to be my writing or my bed. Good luck with the collection.

    • Thanks for responding, Kate. I think sanctuary can be found in a number of places and activities. Have come up with some interesting alternatives by mind storming the word. Have included some of them on my Alpha poem post.

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