This highly ornate creature is a sanctuary knocker or hagoday, and he hangs on the door of Durham Cathedral. Offering the protection of sanctuary or asylum to anyone who grasps the bronze ring, he was a powerful force in the legal system of the past. Anyone who reached this ornate protector could claim 37 days of protection from persecutors, but was not allowed outside the bounds of the church during their stay.
The beautiful detail on the sanctuary knocker was cast in bronze in the 12 th century, and the frightening features of the beast were said to remind the fugitive of the awful fate which lay ahead. If they confessed to their crime they would be granted forgiveness by Gods priests, but would have to leave Britain forever via the nearest port within 37 days. Otherwise they could seek trial by giving themselves up to the local authorities. Perhaps fleeing from mob justice, they fled into the jaws of the beast, hoping to save their lives, but would be forever changed one way or another.
Often described as a lion, I found the ornate creature more reminiscent of a wolf, and his eyes remind me of the 2000 year old bronze war carnyx found in Deskford, Scotland. Certainly he guards the gateway between life and death, and it’s easy to imagine the multitude of hands which have reached in desperation for the protection of this beast.
Despite being a replica ( the original is housed inside the cathedral now) it is still a very evocative piece. I can easily get absorbed in all the delicate detail, lost for a while in admiration for the artistry of our ancestors.