Tag Archives: pilgrim badges

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.


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.


Impression of a Mercers’ company seal matrix, after 1462


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

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.



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.



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.


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 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.

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

Conference: Pilgrimage: Location and Imagination in Medieval England


The Taymouth Hours, courtesy of The British Library

Conference: Pilgrimage: Location and Imagination in Medieval England, Lee Hall, Wolfson College, Cambridge CB3 9BB, April 16, 2016.


The Cambridgeshire Historic Churches Trust in association with Cambridge University announce the programme of their 2016 conference:

09.30am     Registration
10.00am     Welcome and Introduction
10.05am     Indulgences, Images and Pilgrimage, with Dr Jessica Berenbeim (Magdalen College, Oxford)

11.00am     Coffee

11.25am     Over The Edge: Medieval travel and the experience of elsewhere, with Miguel Ayres de Campos (Courtauld Institute of Art)

12.20pm     Sandwich Lunch (for those who have pre-booked it)

1.10pm        The Work of the Cambridgeshire Historic Churches Trust, with The Rt Revd David Thomson, Trust Chairman
1.35pm         The Digital Pilgrim Project at the British Museum, with Amy Jeffs (Corpus Christi College, Cambridge), and Robert Kaleta (University College, London)

2.20pm        Short Break

2.30pm        Scholarly Peregrinations among the Parish Churches of Norfolk, with Bryan Ayres, Clare Haynes, Prof. Sandy Heslop, and Dr Helen Lunnon (University of East Anglia)

3.25pm        Tea

3.50pm        Crossing the Threshold: the layperson’s experience in the Parish Church Chancel with Dr James Cameron (Alumnus of the Courtauld Institute of Art)

4.45pm        Closing Remarks

Directions to the Conference location can be found here.

A booking form can be found here.

Ticket prices are: £15 (CHCT members & guests);  £20 (non-members) £10 (undergraduates). Sandwich lunches can be booked for £9.50.



British Museum handling session: Objects with apotropaic inscriptions

GroupThe Courtauld has a reputation for getting up close to objects, sometimes to the concern of nearby gallery attendants. However, a number of handling sessions for postgraduate students to indulge in pawing exhibits without rebuke have been arranged at the British Museum with the kind assistance of Lloyd DeBeer and Naomi Speakman, both in progress with individual collaborative PhDs at the Museum. The theme for this December session was objects with apotropaic inscriptions, that is, words that apparently warded off evil, as requested and selected by Dr. Tom Nickson.

VikingprowAs we gathered round the table, putting on our unpleasant plastic gloves, what could not fail to draw attention was the impressive (and perhaps also apotropaic) axe-carved prow ornament under conservation for the forthcoming Viking exhibition. However the objects we were to be handling lay beyond this fearsome monster, and were of a much more manageable weight.

BellThis bell was my first port of call, partly being the second biggest thing on the table after the prow, but also because I had just written about bell-founding through the lost wax method with my post on Courtauld favourite Tudor Monastery Farm. Bells are one of the most common medieval objects to be inscribed with the craftsman’s signature, but this one also had four holy figures inscribed upon it which perhaps were there to protect the bell, while the former maybe acting as a perpetual prayer to the maker. Handling a bell like this immediately gives you the impression  that it is far too heavy to ring by hand. Instead, the shape of its upper aperture was suggested as perfect for it to be attached to a wooden frame, and rung by a mechanism. Although there were a few accidental semi-peels, we of course were not going to see if one could bear to have this bell hung low enough to be reminded of its maker while sounding the call to prayer.

FrenchringhandlingOne object that proved particularly popular was this French fifteenth-century finger ring, inscribed with an amorous inscription playing on Latin tenses. This blog is possibly not far from the truth in that it represents a particularly nerdy love-token: the image of the squirrel and lady on the inside being a not-so-subtle medieval double-entendré.


However, that ring represented an object that matched our expectations, ideally sized to be placed upon a lady’s finger for her to cringe at the grammar puns forever more. My personal favourite object of the day was the Coventry Ring, both for its content and the puzzles its actual presence made manifest. On the outside, we have an image of Christ, and a prayer that relates to each of His five wounds. This prayer is accompanied by the characteristic disembodied floating sharplyCoventryRing2-pointed ovoids dripping blood, which, after Caroline Walker Bynum and others’ in-depth investigations of textual and iconographic parallels for the femininity of Christological imagery and devotion, you are allowed to state the obvious resemblance without the risk of getting too Freudian. This prayer is obviously supposed to be read while the ring is turned around the finger, but even this does not explain why it is so conspicuously large when you try it on. Was it made to commission for a particularly big man? Was it designed to be worn over a leather glove? Was it even supposed to be worn other than for prayer? The startling condition of the ring, even the enamelling of lettering inside and out, suggests perhaps so.

These are just a few of the thoughtful fruits that were generated from handling the objects set out for us. But perhaps what never really came out were many opinions about the apotropaic inscriptions which they all had in common. The Coventry Ring was one of many of the objects that had the names of the Three Magi inscribed upon it for instance, clearly from some common mystical significance. Yet so often the more mysterious and magical inscriptions were sidelined in our discussions for other, seemingly more primary functions that the objects embodied. Perhaps it was the same for their users: these were merely conventions that it was proper to have, and even the owner of the Coventry Ring themselves may have been hard-pressed to explain what “ananyzapta tetragrammaton” was all about.

Here is a list of the objects we had out and a link to their catalogue entry:
Laureate head pendant
Late Medieval Bell, English
The Hockley Pendant
The Coventry Ring
Cameo/Amulet ring, Italian, C14 (no image)
Amulet ring, Italian, C14
Annular Broach, English, C13
Finger ring, C15
Pilgrim badge of Henry VI
Mould for similar Henry VI badge
Thomas Becket pilgrim ampulla

We also had a large box of rings of lesser interest out.


These included:
1856,0701.2707, 1856,0721.1, 1858,0628.1, 1865,1203.34, 1872,0604.379, ML.3995, OA.7467

Publication News: New Issue of PEREGRINATIONS: Journal of Medieval Art and Architecture

Publication News:
PEREGRINATIONS: Journal of Medieval Art and Architecture
Vol. IV, No. 2 is now accessible at http://peregrinations.kenyon.edu

Featured Articles:

“Christ’s Money. Eucharistic Azyme Hosts in the Ninth Century According to Bishop Eldefonsus of Spain: Observations on the Origin, Meaning, and Context of a Mysterious Revelation”
by Roger E. Reynolds, Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, University of Toronto, Canada

“Eucharistic Adoration in the Carolingian Era? Exposition of Christ in the Host” by Roger E. Reynolds, Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, University of Toronto, Canada

“Vetera analecta, sive collectio veterum aliquot opera & opusculorum omnis generis, carminum, epistolarum, diplomaton, epitaphiorum, &, cum itinere germanico, adaptationibus & aliquot disquisitionbus R.P.D. Joannis Mabillon, Presbiteri ac Monachi Ord. Sancti Benedicti e Congregatione S. Mauri. Nova Editio cui accessere Mabilloni vita & aliquot opuscula, scilicet Dissertatio de Pane Eucharistico, Azymo et Fermentatio ad Eminentiss. Cardinalem Bona. Subiungitur opusculum Eldefonsi Hispaniensis Episcopi de eodem argumentum. Et Eusebii Romani ad Theophilum Gallum epistola, De cultu sanctorum ignotorum, Parisiis, apud Levesque, ad Pontem S. Michaelis, MDCCXXI, cum privilegio Regis. PROVISIONAL TEXT” by Roger E. Reynolds, Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, University of Toronto, Canada

“Barking Abbey: A GIS Map of a Medieval Nunnery” by Donna Alfano Bussell, English Department, University of Illinois Springfield, & Joseph M. McNamara, Geographic Information Systems Laboratory, University of Illinois Springfield

“Disfluency and Deep Processing as Paths to Devotion: Reading and Praying with the Veronica in the Psalter and Hours of “Yolande of Soissons” (M. 729)” by David Boffa, Beloit College

“Annunciation and Dedication on Aachen Pilgrim Badges. Notes on the Early Badge Production in Aachen and Some New Attributions” by Hanneke van Asperen, Medieval Badges Foundation and Radboud University Nijmegen, The Netherlands

The new issue also includes information on medieval organisations, several book reviews, short notices and new art historical and archaeological discoveries. For more information, see the journal’s website.