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Beverley History – Sanctuary Stones
Have you ever wondered why there is a stone with a fence around it just as you leave Beverley towards Hessle on the A164 near the junction with the A1079?
After a little investigation, it turns out that this stone is actually the remains of a medieval sanctuary cross which in the 15th century was known as the stone cross of Bentley, or simply as Mile cross.
Beverley was one of the major sanctuaries of the middle Ages and was unusual in that criminals could claim asylum within the whole town not just within the church itself. Legend has it that King Athelstan granted Beverley sanctuary privileges for the otherworldly assistance of St John of Beverley in winning the battle of Brunanburh in 937AD which made Athelstan the first king of all Britain.
The boundary of the sanctuary or ‘peace of St John’ extended for a league (the Domesday use of the word implies a mile and a half) from the Minster where St John is laid to rest. The outer limits of the sanctuary were marked with stone crosses; the exact number of crosses is unknown, but may have been five as this would account for the five main roads into Beverley. The penalty for apprehending a criminal who had claimed sanctuary within this boundary was eight pounds and increased in value until at The Frith Stool or stone chair near the altar within the Minster the offence was termed ‘bootless’ i.e. unpardonable.