Uncertain Refuge: Ideas of Sanctuary in Middle English Literature


ACLS Fellowship Program




In late medieval England, the act of seeking sanctuary from crime in a holy place was codified under canon and common law. Yet documents and literary texts alike reveal the permeability of medieval religious space and the contestation of medieval terms of safety. “Uncertain Refuge” argues that legal sanctuary gives fugitives and pursuers alike a highly-charged opportunity for recasting their relations, providing a site for examining received ideas about civic government, clerical privilege, and monarchy. Sanctuary interrogates the conditions of refuge, the uses of sacrality, and the locus of divinity in the world. The practice finally illuminates a fantasy of protection—and a poignant impermanence—that animates late-medieval literature and culture.