Apollo
Art Diary

Thomas Becket: Murder and the Making of a Saint

14 May 2021

This display will explore the turbulent life and death of Thomas Becket, who rose from relatively humble origins to the position of Archbishop of Canterbury before coming into conflict with Henry II over the balance of power between Church and State. His murder in 1170 – whether on the orders of the king remains a bone of historical contention – sent shockwaves through England and beyond; his spilt blood was reported to have miraculous powers of healing, and before long he had been canonised by Pope Alexander III. At the heart of the display of more than 100 artefacts is the unprecedented loan of one of the Miracle Windows from Canterbury Cathedral, made in the early 13th century to surround the now-lost shrine to Becket; new research into this window suggests that some of its panels have been in the wrong order for centuries, and so this will be the first chance to see the window as it was supposed to be seen in some 350 years. The display runs from 20 May–22 August; find out more from the British Museum’s website.

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Panel 1 of the fifth Miracle Window (early 1200s). Photo: © The Chapter, Canterbury Cathedral

Detail of the Miracle Window showing the castration of Eilward of Westoning.

Detail of the Miracle Window showing the castration of Eilward of Westoning. Photo: © The Chapter, Canterbury Cathedral

Relic containing a fragment of Thomas Becket’s skull.

Relic containing a fragment of Thomas Becket’s skull. Stonyhurst College, Lancashire. Photograph: British Jesuit Province

Alabaster panel from an altarpiece showing Becket’s consecration as archbishop (first half of 15th century), England.

Alabaster panel from an altarpiece showing Becket’s consecration as archbishop (first half of 15th century), England. Photo: © Nicholas and Jane Ferguson.