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Sanctuary knocker

Sanctuary knocker

Artist: Grimm, Samuel Hieronymus

Medium: Ink on paper

Date: 1773

Shelfmark: Add. MS 15538

Item number: f. 146

Length: 19.3

Width: 17.4

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Topographical Drawing

The North Door of Durham Cathedral dates from 1140. It is surrounded by a carved stone doorway comprising a series of five orders of arches and pillars. One of the most striking features of the North Door itself is this bronze, lion-like knocker.

Durham Cathedral was a place of sanctuary throughout the middle ages. A fugitive from the law wishing to claim protection used the knocker to attract the attention of two watchmen in a chamber over the North Door. He was then admitted to the Monastery and given sanctuary for a maximum of thirty-seven days during which time he had to choose between trial and voluntary exile. If he chose the latter, he was escorted to a port - usually the Bishop's port at Hartlepool - wearing a badge in the shape of the cross of St Cuthbert stitched to his shoulder and carrying a rough wooden cross tied together with rope. He had to embark on the next ship to sail, regardless of its destination.

The knocker attached to the front of the North Door today is, in fact, an exact copy of the original and was placed there in 1980. The original is on display in the cathedral's museum.

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