The British Museum in Thirteen Objects – Doorknocker in the Shape of a Lion’s Head


Doorknocker in the shape of a lion’s head, British Museum

This object has a cumbersome name, but it’s impressive enough to deserve it. It’s about 14 inches across and dates from around 1200.

Some time ago I wrote about how the idea of sanctuary worked in English law. The doorknocker played a vital role for the criminal who wanted sanctuary, as he had to knock on the church door to gain entry. In theory, but not always in practice, the criminal could remain in the church for forty days without harm from those pursuing him. After that time he had to leave the church and take his punishment or leave England.

Most churches in the fourteenth century had knockers, but they began to be removed and melted down when the laws about sanctuary were repealed in the seventeenth century. Few church doorknockers survive now and this one is such a lovely example.

It’s bronze and was made by the sand-casting method, which means it’s unique since the mould, made of sand, straw and manure, couldn’t be used twice. Once the molten bronze had been poured into the mould it was packed with sand, where it stayed until it had cooled. It was not a quick technique, but it was a proven one, having its roots in antiquity.

No one knows which church it belonged to, but its size and value indicate that it must have been an important one.

Lions were popular forms for ecclesiastical doorknockers and other examples have survived.

Sadly the ring is not original, so no thirteenth-century criminal grabbed it and pounded on the church door in the hope of gaining time for himself.

Here is a better photograph of the doorknocker than mine.



Masterpieces of Medieval Art – James Robinson


Filed under Church, Medieval Crime and Law, Thirteenth Century

27 responses to “The British Museum in Thirteen Objects – Doorknocker in the Shape of a Lion’s Head

  1. Do you know anything more about that leaving England part? Were they protected on their way or did they have to hope no one caught them?

    Liked by 2 people

  2. That’s a cool one. Pity there’s no information on which church it belonged to, I wonder where it was found.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. That’s lovely! Even if the lion does look a little dog-like, as medieval lions often do. I was wondering about how many sanctuary-seekers had used it – until I got to the bit about the ring not being the original one.
    I’d like to have it on my front door.

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  4. Looking at the closeups of the knocker, one can see that its quality is inferior to that of the backplate. However, the knocker does have character. Any idea when it was wrought? Perhaps it’s a knocker from a different sanctuary backplate?

    Remember, though, the Lion’s eyes might have beheld the spectacle of a desperate sanctuary seeker or other important activity! After all, many proclamations, banns, and other events happened at the church door!

    Another delight. Thank you Ms. Munday!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Does anyone know why I am unable to “like” articles? Used to be able to, but now, all I get is a blink of the sign-in box & nothing! I do like this, as well as everything Ms. Mundy posts!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I watched the Cathedrals programme again last night. Worcester and Tewkesbury Abbey featured.
    During the programme it was said that some of the defeated Lancastrians sought sanctuary at the Abbey after the battle of Tewkesbury, and the Abbot faced down the pursuing Yorkists.
    However, a few days later they were hauled out and executed, because it wasn’t a sanctuary.
    I’ve been wondering why. The programme didn’t elucidate. Would it be because they were fleeing “rebels” rather than criminals? Or did Edward IV just make a snap decision? Any ideas?

    Liked by 1 person

    • That is a good question! At first I wondered if it was due to being an abbey. But Edward IV’s queen, Elizabeth, received sanctuary at Westminster Abbey. Perhaps not all churches were officially sanctuaries.

      Thinking about it, I realize I never heard of people claiming sanctuary at the doors of minor parish churches. Does anyone know if it happened?

      And there were those who were excommunicated; perhaps the rule of sanctuary did not apply to them? Also heard of people who were rash enough to risk excommunication by dragging people from sanctuary. People tended to act first and think later; perhaps from too much ale & wine.

      Wow! Perhaps this is another tangent for Ms.Munday to explore!

      Well, I’m able to “like” comments, just not the article germane. Go figure!

      Liked by 2 people

    • I don’t know, but you’re probably right that it was because they weren’t criminals. The law about sanctuary changed over time, as well.

      They were dead men anyway and would have been killed as soon as they left if the abbey, if their pursuers had had the patience to wait. It wasn’t the first time that men had been dragged from a church to their deaths.

      Liked by 2 people

      • According to Wikipedia (no footnote) Edward IV and company forced their way into the Abbey and slaughtered them there. I suspect there may be several versions of the tale, but as you say they were dead men anyway.

        Liked by 2 people

  7. Well. I know that Edward IV had to flee the country when the Kingmaker made it too hot. The people of London loved Edward and somehow Elizabeth, her daughters and made it safely to Westminster Abbey, where they took up residence in great fear, and I believe she gave birth to the Prince of Wales. When Edward’s army won at Barnet (or was it Tewksbury?), he rode in triumph to London & with great show, released his family.

    I’m thinking (and I’m foggy on this) that she again sought sanctuary there when Richard, Duke of York, started taking over & killing off her paternal menfolk. I know that she eventually, and with great fear, released her younger son to the Duke, never setting eyes of him again.

    I’m thinking the sanctuary had more to do with politics than anything. But Warwick probably had her and her children declared some kind of criminals as well as illegitimate.

    I need to re-read my sources. Not like me to be so fuzzy-brained!

    Liked by 1 person

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