The concept of sanctuary, as a place where fugitives can be immune from arrest, dates back to the Bible (cf Numbers, 35), and was recognised in English law until abolished by James I in the 17th century. It was a way to protect people from the vagaries of mob justice. All churches could offer sanctuary within the actual church building, but there were over 20 churches in mediaeval England (including Beverley, Ripon and York in Yorkshire) which were able to provide a wider area of sanctuary.
In Beverley sanctuary began approximately two miles from the Minster. If a pursuer caught his quarry within this area he had to pay a fine to the church authorities. To denote the area sanctuary stones were set up on four of the main approaches to the town – these were tall columns with richly carved crosses – and there were other crosses nearer the Minster at points where fines increased.
Three of the outermost sanctuary crosses survive, though much defaced and without their tops, probably occasioned by post-Reformation zeal.
One is on the A164 road from Hessle and the Humber, just south of its intersection with the A1079. This would have been the main route from Lincoln and the south. On a square base, the column is 21/2 feet tall and 18 inches thick. It can be clearly seen, having been rescued from vegetation during construction of the by-pass.
Moving clockwise the next is at Walkington on the route from Howden and the south-west. Similar in size to the Hessle cross, this (illustrated) is on the left just past the traffic-lights coming from Beverley.
The third surviving stone is at Killingwoldgraves near Bishop Burton on the road to York (the A1174) just before the by-pass (again coming from Beverley). Better preserved and taller than the other two, with some decorative features surviving, this is slightly away from the road and on a higher vantage point, perhaps to make it more visible (unless, of course, it has been moved).
The fourth, missing stone was on the road to Driffield and the north, the A164. It is possible that it was lost during the construction of the now disused railway line to Market Weighton.
One sanctuary stone survives of the eight that originally surrounded St Wilfrid’s Monastery (founded 672 AD) in Ripon: Sharow Cross, now cared for by the National Trust, probably dates from the 13th century. On Dishforth Road at Sharow, just off the A61 on the other side of the River Ure from Ripon itself, it is at SE 3235 7198. Ripon Cathedral now stands where the original monastery was established.
Sources: Martyn Kirby: Sanctuary: Beverley – a town of refuge (updated ed, 200?); for Sharow Cross: https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1149835
RWH / rev August 2020