British Museum’s Becket exhibition now open

Detail from Canterbury Cathedral’s fifth miracle window

The long-awaited Thomas Becket: Murder and the making of a saint exhibition has opened at the British Museum.

This was to have been part of the 2020 Becket anniversary programme of events until we were hit by the pandemic.

The show will now run until Sunday 22 August but tickets should be booked in advance.

It seems odd to see a window from Canterbury Cathedral in the exhibition. Should we not see this when we have walked there? But in Bloomsbury we can inspect the restored glass close up and with lots of explanation.

It was first installed in the cathedral just before the Becket shrine was completed in 1220.

It is interesting to see the immediate reach of Becket for some churches elsewhere and even abroad were ahead of Canterbury in honouring the saint.

The Tudor period brought destruction to the shrine but it also gave us another Becket in the form of St Thomas More. Rochester’s John Fisher and Thomas More are today both PW saints who we encounter on the way and they are recognised here.

As arriving pilgrims we might buy a badge or T-shirt in Canterbury cathedral’s new shop. A token on sale is a replica of one being shown in the exhibition.

If you are unable to travel at present or think £22 is too much for an exhibition ticket on top of a train fare it may be worth considering buying the catalogue.

The exhibition souvenirs, including shell keyrings, pendants and earrings along with miracle window mugs, can be bought online.

Tim Stanley, enthusing in the Daily Telegraph about the exhibition, expressed the strong view that the relic of St Thomas on display is so profoundly special and holy that it should really be seen in a church rather than a museum.

You can see a bone relic of the saint and martyr in St Thomas of Canterbury Church in Canterbury’s Burgate without payment. It is a highpoint of the pilgrimage arrival.

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