British Museum Handling Session: Becket and Pilgrimage

In January 2016 Courtauld staff and students enjoyed another chance to see some of the BM’s hidden treasures thanks to the kind help of Lloyd de Beer and Naomi Speakman of the BM. This time the theme was the cult of Thomas Becket and other objects associated with pilgrimage

Becket 2 (1)

The BM has dozens of Becket pilgrims’ badges, produced in astonishing variety and throughout the Middle Ages. Most of these examples were dredged up from the river Thames:

13c badge showing Becket’s shrine

14c badge with a bell, inscribed with Thomas’ name

Best of all, the collection includes a number of moulds that are closely linked to badges, such as this one:

Late medieval badge showing Thomas on horseback

Mould for a badge

Or this one:

Becket gloves

Mould for gloves badge

Becket 2 (2)

We also looked at representations of Becket’s murder, from this early 13c Limoges reliquary chasse to this late medieval alabaster, as well as this 15c seal matrix showing Thomas in a in ship and this magnificent 13c seal from Langdon Priory. To finish off the session we also looked at a couple of late medieval prints promoting the shrine of the Beautiful Virgin at Regensburg: one showing the original church, the other the church planned (but never built) for the site.

This was partly an exploratory session for a series of workshops and conferences planned by Lloyd de Beer (UEA/British Museum), Tom Nickson (Courtauld Institute of Art) and Emily Guerry (University of Kent) in the lead up to the anniversary of Becket’s death and translation in 2020.

In preparation for the handling session we read the following texts for a reading group the night before:

Sarah Blick, ‘Votives, Images, Interaction and Pilgrimage to the Tomb and Shrine of St. Thomas Becket, Canterbury Cathedral’, In: Sarah Blick and Laura Deborah Gelfand, eds, Push me, pull you. Imaginative, emotional, physical, and spatial interaction in late medieval and Renaissance art, Leiden, 2011, 21-58
Martina Bagnoli, Holger A. Klein, C. Griffith Mann and James Robinson, eds, Treasures of heaven: saints, relics, and devotion in medieval Europe, Cleveland, Ohio, 2010, pp. 148-61 and catalogue nos 97-102
William D. Wixom, ‘In quinto scrinio de Cupro. A Copper Reliquary Chest Attributed to Canterbury: Style, Iconography, and Patronage’, In: Elizabeth C. Parker and Mary B. Shepard, eds, The Cloisters: studies in honor of the fiftieth anniversary, New York, 1992, 195-228
Jennifer Lee, ‘Searching for Signs: Pilgrims’ Identity and Experience made visible in the Miracula Sancti Thomae Cantuariensis’, In: Sarah Blick and Laura Deborah Gelfand, eds, Push me, pull you. Imaginative, emotional, physical, and spatial interaction in late medieval and Renaissance art, Leiden, 2011, 473-491.

 

The Constitutions of Clarendon blog also has a useful collection of images of Becket chasse reliquaries and manuscripts

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