Ornate Protector

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. 

About greenmackenzie

Hi, I'm Seonaid, and I share my home on the shores of Loch Ness deep in the Scottish Highlands with my husband, my son and a couple of dogs. I love art which is here now and gone tomorrow...like food and nature...but also have a passion for vintage and the ancient past! Nature is my favourite muse, with her wild ever shifting seasons. I have been using and teaching mindfulness and relaxation for over 12 years, and have yet to become any sort of expert :-) I'm a Psychotherapist and Cancer Support Specialist in Maggies Highlands
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31 Responses to Ornate Protector

  1. Bipasha says:

    Such a dramatic knocker, it’s lovely!

  2. poppytump says:

    I imagine it might have got rather busy round the sanctuary door in those days Seonaid . This fellow although he is a replica has a rather shiny nose 😉 maybe nowadays people are after a stroke of luck !
    Definitely ornate and I liked the background history you gave us there too .

    • I think you might be right Poppy, it was perhaps quite crowded! Apparently monks sat 24hrs a day above the doors watching for approaching sanctuary seekers, so they could make a swift entry away from their pursuers!! Conjures up some vivid images😳
      The replica has been in place over 30 years so has got some wear…and to be honest it’s hard to resist touching him😉

  3. Tina Schell says:

    Way cool seonaid! Loved the history as well as the photos!!

  4. icelandpenny says:

    Replica or not, many hands have grasped the ring — the burnished sheen shows that.

    • Indeed Penny, the replica has been in place for over 30 years and so has weathered and aged….and to be honest it’s impossible to resist grabbing the ring when you’re standing under it😉

  5. Anabel Marsh says:

    I grew up in NE England and Durham is still my favourite cathedral. Lovely post.

  6. Wow I love this door knocker. I can see the lion when you mentioned it, but I thought it was a dragon at first … and that it was missing a lick of fire !

  7. restlessjo says:

    Thanks for the history on this, Seonaid. 🙂 They’re quite busy up at the Cathedral, doing some work to open up more space to display all their treasures.

  8. gwynnrogers says:

    These door knockers are interesting and frightening! I do have to laugh as someone for Halloween managed to create a door looking like this, only as a person knocked the real head shouted at the person at the door scaring them away. To add to it there were supposed gargoyle statues in the yard that leaped off their pedestal and chased the person away!

    These door knockers have always fascinated me, particularly in the scary movies. The history you have near at hand is incredibly fascinating! Thank you for the beautiful photos!

    • I think I saw a clip of the door knocker you’re talking about Gwynn…I want one to scare off the doorstep sellers we get pestered by😉 I have a more modern Georgian version on my own door, a smiling brass lion, but he’s quite friendly!

  9. Lucid Gypsy says:

    He looks like a mix of a lion and a Green Man, wonderful!

  10. He’s magnificent! Thank you for introducing him to us.

  11. What an amazing door knocker, and I’m sure he could tell a few tales from way back when. 🙂

  12. Leya says:

    Beautiful – and our ancestors were skilled and maybe more of artists than many nowadays.

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