The History and Antiquities of London, Westminster, Southwark, and Parts Adjacent, vol. 4
A place of refuge for criminals of various descriptions. The metropolis at time abounded with these haunts of villainy and wretchedness. They were originally instituted for the most humane and pious purposes, and owe their origin to of the sacred institutions of the Mosaic law, which appointed certain cities of refuge for persons who had accidentally slain any of their fellow-creatures. Previous to the entrance of the Israelites into Canaan, it was ordered that when they should come to be settled there, a provision should be made for the fixed dwelling of the priests and Levites, who, being a distinct body from the rest of the nation, and having no share in the division of the country, were appointed to have their residence in several towns, with such a portion of ground about them as would serve for their commodious subsistence.
It is probable that these convenient retreats, which are dignified with the name of
were only small villages, perhaps not unlike our own Moravian settlements. They were, however, walled round, and had suburbs for the Levites and the inferior ministers of religion, extending from the wall
Le Clerc, however, says that the word , usually called a wall, means in this instance the centre of the city.
Of these cities, the whole number whereof was , of the most conveniently situated were to be cities of refuge, places of sanctuary, or privileged districts; whither any person who had, by chance-medley, killed another, might immediately repair and take sanctuary. The cities of the Levites were appointed cities of refuge, rather than any other, because they were a kind of sacred places, inhabited by sacred persons.
This institution of sanctuaries, as Marmonides justly observes, was a merciful provision both for the manslayer, that he might be preserved, and for the avenger, that his blood might be cooled by the removal of the manslayer out of his sight.
The city of refuge protected him that fled thither, yet so as the right of the judges to bring the matter to a fair trial remained entire.
The elders of the city of refuge enquired whether the manslayer could be received or not, upon a summary hearing of the case. But they were not the proper judges, nor could they examine witnesses. Therefore he was delivered, upon demand, to the senate, or court of justice of that city where the fact was committed, that he might be tried by those whether he was guilty or not guilty of the crime of wilful murder.
This is a material point to be attended to, in tracing the history and origin of privileged places, or sanctuaries, such as the in the city of , now under our consideration. It is certain that, among the Hebrews, with whom the practice originated, these privileged places were not designed to thwart or obstruct the ends of justice, but merely to protect the offender against the revenge of the friends of the slain.
The heathens, whom it is become fashionable with some modern philosophers to compliment as the most enlightened part of mankind in those early ages of the world, had also their places of refuge; and with them it was not allowed to bring the person to trial against his will, who had taken sanctuary in those privileged places. So far from this being the case among the Hebrews, the wilful murderer might be taken even from God's altar, if he fled thither for sanctuary, which he might do in regard to crimes of an inferior nature; and if he would not stir from thence, he might be put to death on the spot.
It is well known that the of the Greeks were a sanctuary for criminals of every description. Throughout the whole Gentile world the temples and places of worship were sanctuaries for crimes. Euripides complains of these in the following strong terms :--
Such is a faint outline of the origin and nature of privileged places. The idea was preserved among the Christians, but extended at to the churches, and other sacred places within their immediate precincts. In process of time, however, by a strange compound of Judiacal, Pagan, and Christian principles, the practice was shamefully corrupted, and this humane privilege most shamefully abused. The temples of the God of justice were made the sanctuaries of every species of wickedness; and to this day, in some parts, they are but little improved in this respect.
In the year , during the pontificate of Innocent VIII., a bull was issued, and sent here, to lay a little restraint on the privileges of sanctuary. It stated that, if thieves, murderers, or robbers,
|registered as sanctuary men, should sally out and commit fresh nuisances, which they frequently did, and enter again, in such cases they might be taken out of their sanctuaries by the king's officers.-- That as for debtors, who had taken sanctuary to defraud their creditors, their persons only should be protected; but their goods, out of sanctuary, should be liable to seizure. As for traitors, the king was allowed to appoint them keepers in their sanctuaries to prevent their escape.
Long before this, these privileged places had become great evils, and Henry VII. had applied to the pope for a reformation; but could obtain only what is here stated, which was confirmed by Alexander VI. in the year .
When the next Henry had resolved to become independent of the authority which he had sworn to respect, (and which he had written to defend,) he caused an act to be passed which totally debarred persons accused of treason of the benefit of sanctuary. He did not, however, abolish the privilege, only so much of it as might affect his usurped and absurd claims to the ecclesiastical supremacy.
After the Reformation had gained strength, these places of sanctuary began to sink into disrepute. They were, however, still preserved; and though none but the most abandoned resorted to them, the dread of innovation, or some other cause, preserved them from demolition, till, in the year , the evils of these sanctuaries had grown so enormous, that it was become absolutely necessary to takesome legislative measures for their destruction. Accordingly, the same year, an act was passed for the suppression of most of them, particularly that in the , those in the neighbourhood of , Salisbury-court, Whitefriars, Ram-alley, and Mitrecourt; Fulwood's-rents, in ; and Baldwin's-gardens, in Grays-inn-lane; the Savoy, in , and Montague-close, Deadman's-place; the Clink, and the Mint, in . Through the neglect of the police, the Mint re-assumed its former character, and that with increased profligacy; nor was it finally suppressed till the reign of George I.
in was a structure of immense strength. Dr. Stukeley, who wrote about the year , saw it standing, and says that it was with very great difficulty demolished. The church belonging to it was in the form of a cross, and double, being built over the other. It is supposed to have been the work of Edward the Confessor.
There were sanctuaries, the great and the little, or rather, perhaps, branches of the same institution.
At the west end of the latter, in the time of Maitland, () there were remains of a prodigious strong stone building of
|feet square, or feet and a half the length of each side; and the walls in thickness no less than feet. This fabric had originally but entrance or door below, and that in the east Ride, with a window hard by, which seems to have been the only below the height of feet of the building, where it was reduced to feet in thickness, and contained windows about the height of , and width of feet inches on the south side.
The area of this exceedingly strong building, (exclusive of the arched cavities in the walls) was divided by a wall from east to west, of feet inches in thickness, into spaces of feet inches each in width, representing a frame for bells; which plainly evinces it to have been the strong bell-tower that was erected in the little sanctuary, by Edward III. for the use of the collegiate church of St. Stephen, and not, as Strype imagines it to have been, the church of the Holy Innocents, for that was the church of . The strong tower was afterwards made use of as a tavern or wine vault; but is now totally demolished.
Within the precincts of this sanctuary was born Edward V., and here his unhappy mother took refuge with her son, the young duke of York, to secure him from the villainous proceedings of his cruel uncle, the duke of Gloucester, who had possession of his elder brother.
On the ground once occupied by the sanctuary, the scene of this melancholy and deceitful tragedy, was afterwards built the meat-market, which was removed some or years ago; and the site is occupied by the new , a neat but plain building of brick, with a portico at the east end.
 Itinerarium Curiosum.
 Fig. 1. in the annexed plate is the Sacristan's room. Fig. 2. The Revestry. Fig. 3. The Record Room.The Sanctuary Church at Westminster: Exterior View.Sanctuary Church at Westminster: Lower Church.Sanctuary Church, Westminster: Upper Church.
 Maitland, ii 1342.