Thought For The Day - Dr Michael Banner - 04/07/2013

If you have ever been to Durham you may have seen the sanctuary knocker on the Cathedral’s north door. If a fugitive reached that door and rapped the knocker they would be granted 40 days or thereabouts of aslyum within the Cathedral, where they would be fed and cared for. Durham’s sanctuary knocker is a rare surviving token, but of an institution which was anything but rare. Throughout this country and throughout the rest of Europe, the right of a criminal to protection within the walls of a consecrated building was pretty well universally accepted for more than a thousand years.

Edward Snowden’s flight from US authorities looks a bit different from medieval cases. His alleged crime – leaking state intelligence secrets via the internet – is very contemporary indeed. And like most other modern fugitives from justice, he has sought out airports and embassies, not a church. But even as this saga seems set to continue beyond the 40 days which the medieval practice generally allowed, we might just wonder whether the principles and ideals which lay behind the idea of a right of sanctuary have any modern relevance...

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