Wednesday, 19 September 2012


During the Middle Ages sanctuary could be sought in any church by anyone fleeing the king's justice, within the building itself. A church was and is consecrated holy ground.  Its sanctity was an ancient right defined by Canon Law. Anyone violating the sanctity of the sanctuary in a church could be excommunicated.  It was sacrilege to remove or attempt to remove the person who had gained the holy precincts; he was henceforth invested with a part of the sacredness of the place, and was inviolable so long as he remained there. It offered a temporary respite, for a period defined by Canon Law, given asylum from the authorities. Within the church itself was often a special seat for use by those seeking sanctuary.

Sanctuary law is thus based entirely on the Church’s claim to the right to impose, in certain places and at certain times its own Canon Law, unimpeded by secular law. But this right and its limits was always challenged by the Crown.

Some churches, those licensed by the king to do so, had a broader version of sanctuary in a special and defined larger zone surrounding the church. 

Understanding the very nature and significance of sanctuary is to understand some of the clauses of the Constitutions of Clarendon. Church land and buildings were seen to be wholly outside the jurisdiction of the secular authorities, The very person of a cleric was holy, and therefore was untouchable by secular authority.

Abjuration of the Realm: In the ancient English law it was a renunciation of one's country and taking an oath of perpetual banishment. A man who had committed a felony, and for safety flea to a sanctuary might within forty days' confess the fact, and take the oath of abjuration and perpetual banishment; he was then transported. 


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