Thomas Becket: Murder and the Making of a Saint, British Museum Review
We are all familiar with how Thomas Becket met his grizzly end at the altar in Canterbuy Cathedral in 1170. But one of the reasons that the murder of Thomas Becket is such a well-known event is because of the unforeseen consequences. Henry II's rage undid his plans to assert his power which resulted in his shame and Thomas Becket's – his victim's – ascension into sainthood.
This exhibition at the British Museum was timed to coincide with the 850th anniversary of Becket’s birth last year, but then the world shut down …. so, instead, we are seeing it in in 2021 but WOW it is well worth the wait.
Central to the exhibits is the stunning stained-glass window (quite literally) taken from Canterbury Cathedral and reinstalled here. This allows visitors a unique opportunity to see the windows right close up in minute detail probably for the first time in 800 years! The colours are glorious. Each pane tells a story and these are clearly told on the information boards below.
There is so much fascinating information in this exhibition that we were unaware of. It is astonishing that news of Becket’s execution by the four knights in Canterbury Cathedral spread round Europe with such speed and that his canonization was so quick (barely 3 years after his slaughter) and the devotion to him so widespread.
The show contains 100 varied objects from museums, private collections and churches across Europe. Some of these objects were owned or touched by Becket, some are treasures from the 12th century, some are gory depictions of his murder – all of them immerse us in the medieval era and vividly illustrate the story the life and legacy of this martyr.
It is important to say that it is not just an exhibition of static objects. There is a highly effective dramatic rendering of the murder projected on the wall. And in places huge curved photographs of Canterbury Cathedral's cloisters are integrated into the exhibition's design.
Bravo to the British Museum. This exhibition brings history to life and is proof that this story continues to resonate. We highly recommend for everyone from10+ years upwards.
Thomas Becket: Murder and the Making of a Saint, British Museum
20th May to 22nd August
Anya Waddington 17th May 2021