Elizabeth Allen


Uncertain Refuge
Elizabeth Allen (Fletcher Jones Fellow, 2012–13)

To seek sanctuary from persecution by entering a sacred space is an act of desperation, but also a symbolic endeavor: fugitives invoke divine presence to reach a precarious safe haven that imbues their lives with religious, social, or political significance. In medieval England, sanctuary was upheld under both canon and common law, and up to five hundred people sought sanctuary every year. What they found, however, was not so much a static refuge as a temporary respite from further action—confession and exile—or from further violence—jurisdictional conflict, harrying or starvation, a breaching of the sanctuary.