One of the surprising chapters of medieval historical past, embracing royalty, energy, sacrilege and bloodshed, is to be instructed by way of the UK’s first main exhibition on the life, dying and legacy of Thomas Becket, opening on the British Museum this spring.
Its centrepiece is a stained glass window from Canterbury Cathedral, the scene of the priest’s brutal homicide by 4 knights loyal to King Henry II in 1170. The 6-metre-high window, initially certainly one of 12 ”miracle” home windows created within the early 1200s, has by no means earlier than left the cathedral nor been seen at eye degree by the general public.
The exhibition, marking the 850th anniversary of Becket’s grotesque homicide within the crypt of Canterbury cathedral, was initially scheduled for October final yr however postponed due to the Covid pandemic. Hartwig Fischer, the British Museum’s director, stated he was hopeful the exhibition would run for 4 months from 22 April.
In addition to the window, Thomas Becket: Homicide and the Making of a Saint will embrace reliquaries, pilgrims’ souvenirs, illuminated manuscripts, sculpture, jewelry and a wax impression of Becket’s private seal. Some are uncommon loans from establishments throughout the UK and Europe and are being introduced collectively for the primary time.
Lloyd de Beer, co-curator of the exhibition, stated: “The violent dying of Thomas Becket is the final word true crime story. It’s a real-life story as dramatic as Recreation of Thrones, and we’re going to steer guests by way of each twist and switch of this exceptional plot. There’s drama, fame, royalty, energy, envy, retribution, and finally a brutal homicide that shocked Europe.”
Becket was appointed archbishop of Canterbury in 1161 by his good friend King Henry II, who wished an ally within the crown’s energy battle with the church. Nearly in a single day, Becket turned extraordinarily pious, donning a sackcloth shirt, consuming solely bread and water, spurning riches and staunchly defending the religion.
He and the king clashed over the supremacy of church and state, and Becket was pressured into exile after being accused of treachery. Just a few years later, he returned however swiftly angered Henry by excommunicating the archbishop of York who had sided with the king towards Rome. Henry allegedly exclaimed: “Will nobody rid me of this turbulent priest?”
On 29 December 1170, 4 knights entered the cathedral and hacked Becket to dying in entrance of the excessive altar, creating an on the spot martyr. He was canonised simply two years later and his shrine turned a magnet for pilgrims throughout Europe, inspiring Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.
Three centuries later, in the course of the Reformation, Henry VIII – decided to kill off the cult of St Thomas – ordered his shrine to be destroyed and his stays obliterated. The veneration of saints’ relics was condemned by the Protestant king as an idolatrous Catholic observe.
The miracle home windows, of which seven of the unique 12 survive, inform tales of miracles attributed to Becket within the three years after his homicide. The window displayed within the exhibition depicts the therapeutic of eyesight and the substitute of genitals misplaced in castration.
Researchers concerned in its painstaking dismantling from Canterbury Cathedral and transfer to the British Museum found that among the window panels had been within the flawed narrative order for greater than 350 years, a mistake now rectified.
Leonie Seliger, director of stained glass conservation at Canterbury Cathedral, stated: “The miracle home windows are medieval variations of graphic novels illustrating the experiences of atypical folks. They greeted the pilgrims on the fruits of their journey to Becket’s shrine with pictures that may be reassuring and uplifting … They’re certainly one of Canterbury Cathedral’s best treasures.”
Fischer stated: “Thomas Becket is certainly one of Europe’s most enduring and controversial figures even in the present day, but his story has by no means been instructed on this scale in a UK exhibition earlier than. The British Museum holds among the world’s best medieval objects and so we’re uniquely positioned to inform this surprising chapter in historical past.”