Medieval hagoday or sanctuary knocker at Holy Trinity church, Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire.
Hagoday’s often took the form of a human, animal or fabulous beast head, with a large knocker or ‘closing ring’ held in the mouth. In medieval times, anyone touching the rings (usually those fleeing from justice or persecution) could claim the right of sanctuary. The right of sanctuary was based on the inviolability attached to things sacred.
The earliest mention of sanctuary in England was in a code of laws promulgated by King Ethelbert in 600. In Norman times there were two kinds of sanctuary in England, one belonging to every church by prescription and the other by special royal character.
A fugitive convicted of felony and taking the benefit of sanctuary was afforded protection from thirty to forty days, after which, subject to certain severe conditions, he had to "abjure the realm", that is leave the kingdom within a specified time and take an oath not to return without the king's leave. Violation of the protection of sanctuary was punishable by excommunication.
The ecclesiastical right of sanctuary ceased in England at the Reformation. The most famous sanctuary knocker in England is at Durham cathedral.
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