The Museum of London has the country’s largest collection of pilgrim badges and to mark this Becket2020 anniversary year it has put some on display.
The varied pewter badges were the souvenir to be brought back to the capital from Canterbury by pilgrims.
Hundreds of these souvenirs have been recovered from London excavations and mudlarking activity along the Thames.
There is some evidence that once back home pilgrims nailed their badge to a wall or beam as a reminder of their walk of a lifetime.
There are just four cabinets put out for this special year by the museum but each item is accompanied by interesting information.
The label under the bells reads: ‘An Intolerable racket’.
Apparently some tiny bells were sold in London to those setting out.
In 1407 someone complained that the large numbers of pilgrims on the road had become a nuisance ‘what with the noise of their singing…the sound of their piping and with the jangling of their Canterbury bells, and with the barking of dogs after them’.
Setting out on the Pilgrims’ Way you will find a St Valentine connection at both Winchester and London’s Southwark.
On the edge of Winchester the path passes through the remains of Hyde Abbey where one of the attractions was the head of St Valentine.
The relic was given in 1041 by Jumièges Abbey in Normandy to Queen Emma of Normandy who a year later presented the head to Winchester.
For centuries 14 February was an important date in the Hyde Abbey liturgical calendar.
Hyde Abbey also owned The Tabard Inn in Southwark’s Borough High Street and Professor Andy Kelly of the University of California suggests that a St Valentine’s Day Mass would have been said in the Tabard Inn chapel.
Nearby Southwark Cathedral has the magnificent tomb of John Gower who ghosted some of the Canterbury tales for his friend Geoffrey Chaucer.
Chaucer refers to ‘seint valentynes day of the parlement of briddes’ in The Canterbury Tales.
Which one first wrote of birds choosing mating partners on St Valentine’s Day is a matter of debate.
But Professor Kelly suggests that they were looking to a St Valentine’s Day then observed in Genoa during May.
In the grounds of Mary’s house, Limnerslease, is a terracotta Pilgrims’ Way cross inscribed: ‘G. F. Watts, O. M. R. A. His Pilgrims Way 1891-1904. By his wish, this cross placed here.’ At the base are pilgrim figures.
The book’s many illustrations include photographs of pilgrim mugs manufactured on site as well as different ceramic pilgrim bottles with delightful designs.
Red clay pendants depict landmarks to come: St Catherine’s Chapel and St Martha’s Hill church.
The book also suggests that in St Nicholas church, at the entry into Guildford, the figure of the saint comes from Compton.
Allow plenty of time if you are pausing for refreshment at Compton.
Artist Michelle Rumney was at Southwark Cathedral on Sunday to measure more people for her Lent art installation.
Bishop Peter Price and actor Timothy West were among the many who were measured to be part of the artwork.
In Medieval times your body (or dead body) could be measured from head to toe with a length of string which would used to make a candle . It would then be lit as prayers were said for your recovery or eternal soul.
This practice was called Measuring to the Saint and Michelle Rumney is using it as inspiration to create the installation.
2020 is St Thomas Becket anniversary year and so the Lent 2020 artwork will explore the idea of pilgrimage and the routes that connect us through the centuries.
The strings will be used in the installation covering the Southwark Cathedral great screen from Ash Wednesday 25 February until Good Friday.
Pilgrims and intending Canterbury pilgrims are being invited to drop in at Southwark Cathedral on Sunday.
‘Measuring the saint’ is an old custom involving making a candle to the height of a particular saint.
The saint in question this time is St Thomas of Canterbury, better known as Thomas Becket, whose 850th anniversary of martyrdom is being marked this year.
Church candles were sometimes made to the height of a deceased person being remembered or a living person needing our prayers.
Michelle Rumney is measuring people with string so she can weave hundreds of lengths into her Lent installation in Southwark Cathedral. Its theme will be the Pilgrims’ Way from Southwark to Canterbury.
The Archbishop of Canterbury was measured last week.
Next Sunday 12 January Michelle will be back at Southwark Cathedral between 12 noon and 3pm to measure anyone who wants to participate.
“I’d love everyone who feels they have a special connection with Southwark in any way to be part of this if they’d like to be – to actually be part of the artwork,” says Michelle.
So far Michelle has collected 257 lengths of string but needs a further opportunities to measure in order to be able to represent the full 86 miles from Southwark to Canterbury.
The backdrop to the artwork will be the 500 year old great screen which features images of figures associated with the pilgrimage including St Thomas, St Swithun, John Gower, Cardinal Beaufort and Bishop Richard Fox.
Lent starts at the end of February and lasts for six weeks until Easter in April.
St Thomas Becket visited Southwark Cathedral just three weeks before his murder in Canterbury. His route back to Canterbury is the present Pilgrims’ Way followed by pilgrims and made famous by Chaucer.
Sunday 29 December is St Thomas of Canterbury Day when the murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket during Christmas 1170 is remembered.
It will be a low-key day as this year it is a Sunday when most churches are keeping Holy Family Sunday or First Sunday of Christmas.
At Canterbury Cathedral there is evensong at 3.15pm when the service includes a procession to the Martyrdom for a liturgical reading of lines from TS Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral. The service ends in the crypt.
Thomas Becket was murdered during Vespers in the late afternoon and Solemn Vespers will be sung in the crypt at 8pm.
Next year, a leap year, the 850th anniversary will fall on a Tuesday and be widely marked especially at Canterbury.