Tag Archives: Canterbury Cathedral

Examining Becket

Reflections on the Thomas Becket Study Day, 7th June 2017, Canterbury Cathedral

There could scarcely be a more appropriate setting for a study day on the theme of Thomas Becket than Canterbury Cathedral, the location of the archbishop’s martyrdom nearly 850 years ago on the 29th December 1170. In the Cathedral Library and Archives, just metres from the site of Becket’s murder in the North West Transept, experts from universities, museums and Canterbury heritage organisations gathered to discuss the saint’s life and cult.

The day began with a series of ‘quick fire’ presentations, each focusing on one theme or object related to Thomas Becket. The range of material gave an immediate sense of the scale and popularity of Becket’s cult in the Middle Ages and beyond. Some objects discussed have likely existed in the vicinity of Canterbury since they were produced, including a fragmentary sandstone ampulla mould discovered in the garden of 16 Watling Street (Dr Paul Bennett, Canterbury Archaeological Trust), a thirteenth-century cartulary made for Christ Church containing charters for the shrine of Thomas Becket (Professor Louise Wilkinson, Canterbury Christ Church University), the seal of Archbishop Simon Sudbury showing Becket’s martyrdom (Dr Sheila Sweetinburgh, University of Kent), and the spectacular miracle windows in the Trinity Chapel of the Cathedral itself (Professor Michael A. Michael, Christie’s Education).

Thomas Becket ampulla (or vessel), now in the British Museum, similar to the kind that would have been produced by the Watling Street mould discussed by Dr Paul Bennet. See more 3D models of pilgrim souvenirs here

Image 2, Sens Chasuble

Chasuble in Sens Cathedral treasury thought to have been worn by Thomas Becket and venerated as a contact relic

Other delegates discussed geographically dispersed objects which originated or were believed to have originated in Canterbury. For instance, pilgrim souvenirs depicting Becket were bought by visitors to Canterbury and, it would seem, lost on the way home. These badges, with their intricate and compelling imagery, would have been worn on the bags, hats and garments of pilgrims as signs of their visit to Becket’s shrine and are now excavated from sites across Britain and Europe (Amy Jeffs and Dr Gabriel Byng, University of Cambridge and convenors of The Digital Pilgrim Project). Likewise, Dr Emily Guerry (University of Kent) discussed a series of vestments owned by Sens Cathedral that were reputedly worn by Becket and possibly used at Sens as contact relics.

 

A number of  significant objects pertaining to Becket originated from further afield, both geographically and chronologically. Dr Tom Nickson (Courtauld Institute of Art), for example, presented on a c. 1200 altar frontal depicting Becket’s martyrdom found in the church of San Miguel in Almazán, which bears early witness to the popularity of Becket’s cult in Spain.

Image 1, San Miguel altar

Altar frontal from the church of San Miguel in Almazán, showing Becket’s martyrdom

Becket’s later legacy was then examined. Lloyd De Beer (British Museum) assessed the sixteenth-century political and religious connotations of the saint’s martyrdom through the lens of Alberti’s The Martyr’s Picture (1581), displayed in the Venerable English College in Rome, and Naomi Speakman (British Museum) discussed Becket’s memory in post-Reformation England and his representation as an anti-martyr.

These evocative objects and themes provoked a lively concluding discussion that centred on the international nature of Becket’s cult and the extent to which the art associated with it imitated and/or innovated in order promote the saint and potency of his cult as a political tool.

Image 4, Cathedral Archives

Examining the Professions of Obedience in the Canterbury Cathedral Archives

This discussion was followed by an opportunity to see first-hand some of the extraordinary items associated with Becket. Cressida Williams, head of the Cathedral Archives and Library, had organised for an array of Becket-themed documents and objects from the Cathedral collections and various heritage organisations in Canterbury to be displayed together in the reading room of the Cathedral Archives. Among this impressive collection were two fragments of pink Tournai marble, discovered during excavations in the Cathedral grounds, which are thought to have come from the shrine of St Thomas himself. Also on display were a number of medieval seals from the Cathedral’s collections, including those of Archbishops Hubert Walter and Stephen Langton, which both depict Becket’s martyrdom. Dr Helen Gittos from the University of Kent discussed a particular treasure of the Cathedral Archive, the Professions of Obedience, a series of 170 documents now bound into a single volume that record the vows made by bishops during their consecration. These small vellum statements, which would have originally been sewn together in a continuous roll, contain the dates of bishops’ consecrations, and are thus immensely helpful in dating other contemporary documents based on a comparison of their palaeography. Becket’s entry is especially marked in the Professions by a statement in red noting his archiepiscopal status.

 

The later half of the afternoon saw the group move to the Cathedral stained glass studio, where Leonie Seliger, Head of the Stained Glass Conservation Department, led us in a discussion of the representation of Becket in the Cathedral glass. Notably, only three original thirteenth-century panels depicting Becket’s head survive, which Leonie encouraged us to find among her printed reproductions – a task that proved surprisingly difficult. We also had the opportunity to see some of medieval stained glass currently under restoration in the studio, and to hear from Leonie about the techniques that would have gone in to making these panels. A particular highlight was seeing how the colour of nine hundred year old stained glass was still bright and vivid when held up to the light.

Image 7, Sudbury's tomb

Kneeling at the resonant prayer niches in Archbishop Sudbury’s tomb, Canterbury Cathedral

A subsequent tour of the Cathedral offered a chance to see the miracle windows we had discussed in the glass studio in situ, along with the site of Becket’s shrine and several archiepiscopal and royal tombs. The tombs of Archbishops Sudbury and Mepham in the south aisle of the Choir afforded a particularly interactive experience; kneeling down at one of the vaulted prayer niches carved into the tombs’ exterior, penitents (or indeed academics) can experience an amplification not only of the music performed in the nearby Choir, but also their own whispered prayers and thoughts.

 

Professor Paul Binski (University of Cambridge) brought the study day to a close with a public lecture entitled ‘Thomas Becket and the Medieval Cult of Personality’. Drawing on many of the objects seen and discussed throughout the day, Professor Binski reflected on the idea of Becket’s ‘persona’ (as opposed to the modern notion of ‘personality’) and its importance in the formation and development of his cult. Much like a mask that can be put on or taken off, the medieval concept of an individual’s persona was related to their outer countenance, and formed by certain archetypal characteristics – both good and bad – often rooted in character types in biblical stories or saint’s lives. Becket’s persona and outer image, Professor Binski argued, was imitated in the art and architecture produced in response to his martyrdom, an aspect that was vital to the rapid dissemination and spread of the cult. Due in part to the accessibility of this image through objects made both for the elite and for the ordinary person, Becket’s persona transcended social as well as geographical boundaries, transforming his cult into a widespread, international phenomenon. Professor Binski’s concluding remarks on the appeal of the Becket’s cult in the Middle Ages had a particular resonance amidst of the full lecture theatre where the lasting legacy of Thomas Becket’s life and death was still very much felt.

Sophie Kelly

PhD Candidate, University of Kent

 

Locating Becket

How can the life and cult of Thomas Becket be traced through material culture? This was the question at the heart of the ‘Locating Becket’ workshop, sponsored by CHASE, and held at the British Library, British Museum and Courtauld Institute of Art on Tuesday 6th December 2016. Curators and scholars gathered first at the British Library to examine a number of manuscripts connected to Becket’s life and cult, including Cotton Claudius B II, with the earliest representation of Becket’s martyrdom (below). This fairly stable iconography  could be followed in later manuscripts, including the (very bloody) Huth Psalter (Add MS 38116 ), a 15th-century Book of Hours from Rouen (Harley 1251), and in two seals attached to Ch. 17353 and Harley Ch. 44 C 33.

martyrdom-thomas-becket-a80136-48

Becket’s martyrdom, from Alan of Tewkesbury’s letters, British Library Cotton MS Claudius B II, late 12th century. Image in the public domain.

An early collection of Becket’s miracles was also examined (Egerton MS 2818), as well as the early fourteenth-century ‘memorandum book’  of Prior Henry Eastry (Cotton Galba E. iv), which includes an inventory of Prior Eastry’s interventions, an extensive inventory of the sacristy, and an inventory of the library. Finally, we looked at the early fifteenth-century customary of Becket’s shrine (Additional 59616), with extensive instructions  for the celebration of his feast days, which is bound together with two copies of his lives which seem to have been kept at the shrine and read to pilgrims.

The afternoon was spent looking at the British Museum’s extraordinary collection of pilgrims’ badges, ampullae, reliquaries and other objects related to Becket, including the impression of the 15th-century seal of the Mercers Company (below), which shows Becket on a ship, returning from exile.

becket

Impression of a Mercers’ company seal matrix, after 1462

 

Below is a full list of the objects consulted at the British Museum:

Badges
1836,0610.32, ca. 1320-1450, Becket bust, purchased from Cureton.

1855,0804.70, ca. 1250-1350, Becket contained within a T, found Thames 1845, previous owner Chaffers, then Cureton.

1855,0724.5, head of Becket between two raised swords contained within an octofoil frame, ca. 1320-1450. Purchased from William Edwards.

1856,0701.2036, ca. 1300-1350, bust of Becket between a nine point star, inscription SANCTVS.THOMAS, found 22nd August 1850, purchased Charles Roach Smith.

1856,0701.2031 and 2032, two badges in the form of Becket’s bust, ca. 1320-1450, purchased Charles Roach Smith.

1856,0701.2039, ca. 1350-1400, four embossed fleur-de-lis in the form of a quatrefoil around a central boss, inscription SANTE.THOMA.OR.P.M., purchased Charles Roach Smith, previous collection Edward Wigan.

1868,0904.39, badge in the form of a kind of ship known as a cog, ca.1350-1400, donated by Franks.

2001,0702.1, Becket’s bust reliquary, ca. 1320-1375, found Billingsgate.

OA.1817, decorative sword sheath (referring to the relic of the sword tip) with Fitz Urse coat of arms, ca. 1350-1450.

2001,0702.2, Becket riding  a peacock, ca. 1250-1350, found Thames Exchange.

dec-2016-bm-handling-session

Ampullae

1891,0418.21, ampulla with circular openwork tracery. The obverse of the ampulla is embossed with the standing figure of St Thomas Becket in a bishop’s mitre and chasuble, with an equal-armed cross standing out from his breast. The reverse bears a representation of his martyrdom with Becket kneeling in the centre, inscription OPTIMUS EGRORVM.MEDICVS.FIT.THOMA.BONORVM, ‘May Thomas be the best doctor of the worthy sick’, ca. 1220-1420.

1896,0501.69, the front of the ampulla  depicts the standing figure of St Thomas Becket in mitre and chasuble,  making a gesture of benediction and holding a crosier. The reverse shows the  scene of his martyrdom with one knight faced by a kneeling Becket. The  frame is filled with openwork decoration of symmetrical sexfoil and fleur-de- lis motifs and a representation of the front- and back-view of a seated  Becket, depicted in episcopal garb, enclosed within a roundel. Inscription, REGENAKDVS.FILIVS HVRS:THOMAS:MARTIRIVM:FECE:FR., ‘Reginald Fitz Urse brought to pass the Martyrdom of Thomas’, donated by Franks.

2001,0702.3, chasse shaped ampulla, ca. 1250-1350, found Billingsgate.

2001,0702.6, ship-shaped ampulla (referring to Becket’s return from exile) with a high relief representation of Becket, ?ca. 1170-1250, found Billingsgate.

 

Seals

1880,0624.1, impression of Mercer’s company seal matrix, showing a  half-figure of St Thomas of Canterbury in a ship, inscriptions, ‘sigillu : anglicor in flandria : brabancia : hollandria: zeeladia : m’cat’ and ‘s. thomas catuar’, after 1462, found Harrow.

1913,1105.3, Langdon Priory seal matrices. On the obverse is a Virgin and Child seated in a canopied niche on a corbel. On the reverse is a scene of the  Martyrdom of St Thomas in Canterbury Cathedral. 13th century. Inscriptions, ‘SIGILL’ . COMMVNE MONASTERII: ECCE: DE MARIE: DE: LANGEDON’ and ‘CAVSA: DOMVS: XPI: MORTEM: SIC: IRTVLIT ISTI’.

1981,1103.1, Seal-matrix: Warden of Greyfriars at Canterbury. Inscription, ‘SIG GARDIANI FRUM MINORU CANTUARIE’. Ca. 1330-1350.

casket-interior

Reliquaries and other objects

AF.2765, Reliquary pendant showing on the observes John the Baptist and possibly Thomas Becket on the reverse. Inscription, ‘A MON + dERREYNE’. Late 15th century, found Devizes.

1878,1101.3, Chasse depicting the martyrdom of Becket, ca. 1210, donated by Meyrick, previous collection Douce.

1852,0327.1, Henry of Blois plaques, made possibly in England, ca. 1150-1171. Inscriptions:
+ MVNERA GRATA DEO PREMISSVS VERNA FIGVRAT. ANGELVS AD  CELVM RAPIAT POST DONA DATOREM;. NE TAMEN ACCELERET NE  SVSCITET ANGLIA LVCTVS, CVI PXA VEL BELLVM MOTVSVE  QVIESVE PER ILLUM (= ‘The aforementioned slave shapes gifts pleasing to God.  May the angel take  the giver to Heaven after his gifts, but not just yet, lest England groan for it,  since on him it depends for peace or war, agitation or rest.’) + ARS AVRO GEMMISQ (UE) PRIOR, PRIOR OMNIBVS AVTOR.  DONA  DAT HENRICVS VIVVS IN ERE DEO, MENTE PAREM MVSIS (ET)  MARCO VOCE PRIOREM.  FAME VIRIS, MORES CONCILIANT  SUPERIS.  Also inscribed within the scene, HENRICUS EPISCOP  (‘Art comes before gold and gems, the author before everything.  Henry, alive in bronze, gives gifts to God.  Henry, whose fame commends him to  men, whose character commends him to the heavens, a man equal in mind to  the Muses and in eloquence higher than Marcus [that is, Cicero].’)

1854,0411.2, enamelled casket depicting the murder of Becket, 13th century, purchased from William Forrest.

1890,0809.1, alabaster panel showing the murder of Thomas Becket,

 

Prints and Drawings

1973,0512.3.2, Ecclesiae Anglicanae Trophaea, Plate 2: the Trinity surrounded by angels in the upper section; two bishops in  brocaded cloaks in the lower section, after Niccolò Circignani, etching.

1973,0512.3.25, Ecclesiae Anglicanae Trophaea, Plate 25: the martyrdom of St Thomas, archbishop of Canterbury, the saint  kneeling before the altar, about to be martyred by a group of soldiers with  swords; scene separated from the background by a balustrade with balusters;  St Thomas named archbishop by Henry II at far left; saint kneeling before  Pope Alexander III seated on a throne, accompanied by two male attendants  at far right, etching.

illustration-to-bowyers-edition-of-humes-history-of-england-1793

Illustration to Bowyer’s edition of Hume’s History of England, 1793

1853,1210.383, Illustration to Bowyer’s edition of Hume’s History of England; the  assassination of Thomas Becket, wrestled to his knees by a gang of four  knights, one raising a bludgeon above him, his mitre and staff fallen at left.   1793, etching and engraving.

1856,0607.15, Portrait of Thomas Becket, head and shoulders to left, with hands joined in  prayer, wearing ecclesiastical robes, a sword wedged in his skull.  1647, etching.

The day concluded with a lecture at The Courtauld by Cynthia Hahn, ‘Like life-giving seeds: The Multiplication and Dissemination of Relics and Reliquaries‘.

This event was made possible through a CHASE Network Development Grant, with additional support from the University of Kent and The Courtauld.

CFP: The Black Prince and Canterbury Cathedral (16-17th November 2017)

Black Prince effigyProposal deadline: Monday, 30th January 2017

Proposals for papers are invited for the two day conference ‘The Black Prince and Canterbury Cathedral’ (working title) to be held at Canterbury Cathedral on the 16th and 17thNovember 2017. The conference is part of a wider project to preserve and research the material culture of the Black Prince held at Canterbury Cathedral and it is supported by the Dean and Chapter of Canterbury and the Heritage Lottery Fund through The Canterbury Journey project.

 

This conference will explore and appraise current and developing studies of the Black Prince, his life, his influence past and present, and will contextualise him within the cathedral setting. A keynote address will be complemented by a series of presentations and panel discussions and unique and unusual access to the architecture of the Cathedral.

The aim of the conference is to offer a vibrant and challenging perspective on the field, review ongoing projects and public and scholarly engagement.

Original proposals are welcome from professionals, rising and established academic scholars and graduate students. Submissions are invited on topics including, but not limited to:

_ Architecture associated with the Black Prince

 _Religion and piety in the 14th century

 _The Black Prince’s Achievements – their construction, provenance and conservation

 _The wider material culture of the Black Prince

 _Women’s history in the 14th century

 _The Black Prince and his spiritual and secular links with Canterbury

 _The funeral and burial of the Black Prince, his tomb, tester and his effigy and their context

 _Literature, music and artistic achievements of the mid to late 14th century

 _The Black Prince and his position in history – changing perspectives

Guidelines for proposals:

Presentations of papers will be 40 minutes in length with an additional 10 minutes for questions.

Papers in this context could be individual or joint presentations, panel discussions or interactive workshops.

Proposals should include the presenter’s name, position and institutional affiliation, the paper’s title, an abstract of up to 250 words, a biography of up to 200 words (written in the third person), and a contact e-mail address.

Proposals for joint presentations or panel discussions should include the above for each speaker, and in the case of a panel discussion a paragraph of up to 250 words describing the panel’s rationale.

Proposals for papers should be emailed to Sarah Turner and Heather Newton by 30th January 2017, using the following email addresses: sarah.turner@canterbury-cathedral.org and Heather.Newton@canterbury-cathedral.org. Informal enquiries in advance of this deadline are welcome.

All presenters will receive their travel and accommodation costs (up to a maximum of £200) and free entry to the conference.

Full registration details will be available in March 2017. Limited student bursaries may be available, more details to follow.

Symposium: Monuments of Power (Canterbury, 5-7 September 2014)

Symposium: Monuments of Power
Canterbury, 5-7 September 2014
Booking deadline: 31 July 2014

canterburyThis Symposium is to be held jointly by the Church Monuments Society and the Centre for Medieval and Modern Studies, University of Kent.  The Symposium will focus on the monuments in the cathedral together with related high status tombs.  We will begin on Friday afternoon with an optional visit to the cathedral’s mason’s yard and with an evening reception and dinner, followed by the keynote lecture.  Lectures will begin on Saturday morning, and after lunch we will take the coach to the cathedral when delegates will have their own free time to look around or visit the cathedral library.  After evensong we will have sole access to the cathedral together with talks on the monuments.  On Saturday evening there is a drinks reception and dinner, followed by members’ contributions.  On Sunday a varied lecture programme will be delivered, and the Symposium will close with afternoon tea at 4.00.  The event is also open to those who wish to attend on a daily basis.

List of speakers

Kent Rowland
Henry VIII’s influence at Canterbury Cathedral

Tim Tatton Brown
The late Medieval monuments and shrines in the eastern arm of Canterbury Cathedral

David Green
The Black Prince

Kenneth Fincham & David Shaw
The Boys monument

Jessica Barker
Margaret Holland and her two husbands

Kim Woods
Effigies in alabaster in Canterbury Cathedral

Sophie Oosterwijk
Copper-alloy tombs in Medieval Europe

Melanie Caiazza
Expeditions and effigies: (re)locating death, burial and family narratives – a closer look at the case of Sir James Hales

Barbara Tomlinson
Commemorating Admiral Sir George Rooke (1650-1708) and his naval contemporaries

Jean Wilson
Lies, damned lies and monuments: two military memorials in Canterbury Cathedral

Anyone wishing to give a short paper under members’ contributions should contact the organiser, Mark Downing.

The Symposium is to be held at the University of Kent, Canterbury, which is about 20 minutes walk from the city centre.  Accommodation is in single en-suite bedrooms.  The cost for the full Symposium is £250 (£270 for non-members), full board.  Alternatively, delegates may choose to attend on a non-residential basis: Saturday – morning lectures, lunch, coach travel to the cathedral and entry (fee: £60, non-members £70), and/or Sunday – lectures including lunch (fee: £45 non-members £55).

For further information on how to book, visit the Church Monuments Society’s website.

Current Exhibition: Canterbury and St. Albans: Treasures from Church and Cloister

albans01bCurrent Exhibition: Canterbury and St. Albans: Treasures from Church and Cloister

Getty Museum of Art, (September 20, 2013–February 2, 2014)

This exhibition brings together two masterpieces of medieval English art: stained glass from Canterbury Cathedral and the St. Albans Psalter, a splendidly illuminated Book of Psalms. Uniting the intimate art of book illumination with monumental glass painting, this exhibition explores how specific texts, prayers, and environments shaped medieval viewers’ understanding of pictures in the era of artistic renewal following the Norman Conquest of England. Life-size paintings on glass depict the ancestors of Christ, and richly ornamented illuminations translate biblical texts into luminous pictures.

The panels of glass have been temporarily de-installed and pages from the St. Albans Psalter, unbound—allowing visitors to experience these works at a proximity enjoyed by few in their long and storied histories. The windows would have been visible to monks sitting in the communal space of the cathedral’s choir, and the psalter was meant to be held in one’s hands as an object of personal devotion.

The early 12th-century manuscript’s graceful, powerfully drawn figures and saturated colors mark the arrival of the Romanesque style of painting in England. The windows from Canterbury, made toward the end of the century, represent this style at its apex and are the finest examples of English Romanesque glass that survive.

For additional information see http://www.getty.edu/art/exhibitions/canterbury/