Weekend 496.1 (Thomas Becket Exhibit)

“Chosen before the foundation of the world in Christ, Saint Thomas in his propitious birth lit up the capital of the British Isles, London.” – Edward Grim, Life of St Thomas Becket 1171-2

I spent a day at Westminster Abbey earlier in the week and have started to post photos on Flickr. This afternoon I was at the British Museum for an exhibit on Thomas Becket (murder and the making of a saint). During my trip to Canterbury Cathedral one of the guides mentioned the stained-glass window showing the miracles after Becket’s martyrdom was on loan to the British Museum. In lieu of normal glass the staff at Canterbury Cathedral replaced the loaner with a facsimile. You can tell right away because the colors are muted and the figures are bit garish.

I also visited Room 40 (Medieval Europe 1050 – 1500) to see the Towton Ring.

(1) Quotes from The Stripping of the Altars by Eamon Duffy:

“That the primers were more than texts can be readily gathered from handling a few of them, manuscript or printed. The ornamentation that most primers contained would have established for their readers the fact that they were, in the first place, sacred objects. Paintings or woodcuts of the Trinity, of the life of the Virgin, of the saints with their emblems, above all scenes depicting the suffering and death of Christ, served in themselves as focuses of the sacred, designed to evoke worship and reverence. They were often conceived as channels of sacred power independent of the texts they accompanied.”

“Above all, the saint desired pilgrimage to his shrine, and a promise to visit the saint’s relics and there offer a coin or a candle was held to be the most likely way to attract his interest and help.”

“The primary purpose of pilgrimage had always been to seek the holy, concretely embodied in a sacred place, a relic, or a specially privileged image. Such localization of the holy in sacred places was often criticized in the later Middle Ages, not least by Thomas à Kempis in the Imitation of Christ. In fact the practice of pilgrimage, travel to seek the sacred outside of one’s immediate locality, had important symbolic and integrative functions, helping the believer to place the religious routine of the closed and concentric worlds of household, parish, or gild in a broader and more complex perception of the sacred, which transcended while affirming local allegiances. Pilgrimage also provided a temporary release from the constrictions and norms of ordinary living, an opportunity to review one’s life and, in a religious culture which valued asceticism and the monastic life above the married state, an opportunity for profane men and women to share in the graces of renunciation and discipline which religious life, in theory, at least promised.”

(2) Public Lecture. ‘The Library of Saint Thomas Becket’, by Christopher de Hamel, FSA

(3) Tour of Thomas Becket: murder and the making of a saint exhibition (British Museum)

(4) British Museum Becket exhibition features treasures from the Parker Library

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