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In 937 King Athelstan granted Beverley the Right of Sanctuary – one of only two towns in the north of England with this status. Beverley Minster, the town’s main church, will be commemorating this event with the Place of Sanctuary project.
Church officials have announced they have received initial support from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for project, which aims to repair and conserve the badly leaking roof of the lesser transept under which the famous Saxon Sanctuary chair is situated. It is the oldest object in the Minster (there is only one other example in the country), and is a survivor from the time Bishop John (later Saint John of Beverley) set up a monastery on the site of the present Minster. He retired to the monastery and died in 721.
Since the tenth-century people fleeing persecution or accused of wrongdoing travelled from all over the country to find protection for up to 30 days and a fair hearing. The priceless Beverley Sanctuary Book, kept in the British Library, has records from 1478 – 1540 containing a list of the names of fugitives and their misdemeanors.
Development funding of £32,600 has also been awarded to help the Minster progress their plans to apply for a full grant at a later date.
The project, as well as aiming to carry out essential conservation and repair work to the roof, will develop an exhibition to inform visitors of Beverley’s rich heritage and historical importance. It will relate its medieval status as a place of sanctuary with the contemporary plight of refugees and asylum-seekers. It will also appoint a Learning Events Officer to develop an educational programme. The large number of Minster volunteers will receive training so that they can enhance their knowledge of sanctuary, support the project activities and help visitors engage with the church’s history.
The Vicar, the Revd. Canon Jonathan Baker said: “We are of course delighted to have received HLF funding to begin the project to repair our roof so that the Minster is safe for visitors in the foreseeable future. At the same time we have the opportunity to tell Beverley’s largely untold story as a sanctuary town with rights granted to the Minster as a safe place over a thousand years ago.”
The project will commission a new publication to complement the exhibition outlining the importance of sanctuary in the history of Beverley.
Beverley Minster is England’s largest Parish Church and attracts tens of thousands of visitors to services and events as well as to appreciate the architecture of one of Europe’s most beautiful Gothic churches.