1) The word ‘grith’, often metathesised to ‘girth’, meant peace or guaranteed security, and a sanctuary seeker in Durham would rap at the knocker on the door of the Cathedral asking <i>gyrth for God’s sake</i> (SS64/72). In Yorkshire, both Beverley and Ripon had similar rights.

Once safely within the church the sanctuary seeker was known as a ‘grithman’ or ‘girthman’ and a by-name provides an early example of the word: 1297 Paulin Grithman, Beverley. In 1342, pardons were granted ad omnes homines vocatas grithmen if they agreed to fight the Scots. Both spellings occur in fifteenth-century records: 1458 confugć sive gyrthmanij, Ripon

1460 nullus Grithmannus ejusdem ville, Beverley. Within Ripon church was a stone called the grithstone: 1228 et infra portam cimiterij et locum qui vocatur Grythstane, Ripon: in an earlier undated reference it was the stane that Grythstole hatte

that is ‘is named’. The sanctuary seekers were ministered to by a ‘grithpriest’: 1392 in tenura domini Johannis vocati le Grithpreste, Ripon. In 1471, John Eksmyth, gyrthman of Ripon, sought permission to carry the gyrthrod which was apparently a stave with a banner, borne by the grithmen at Rogation-tide. Byland Abbey charters of 1240 and 1246 refer to a liberty which granted them freedom from payment in cases of grithbreche or grithbreke. These are alternative spellings of a term which is explained as ‘the breaking of the king’s peace’. Stones which marked where sanctuary ended were placed on the outskirts of Beverley and some of these have survived.

spellings grithbreach grithman grithpriest grithstone grithstool girthman
places Beverley Ripon
dates 1228 1297 1342 1392 1458 1460 1471

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Photo by Kreuzschnabel CC BY-SA 3.0