A Hungarian Becket relic is being brought to the Cathedral so we thought it would be a perfect opportunity to introduce another of the Cathedral’s dedicated guides, John Butler (pictured right) , author of a most fascinating book on Becket ‘The Quest for Becket’s Bones’.
Tell us about yourself and your connection to the Cathedral?
I worked at the University of Kent for 35 years before taking early(ish) retirement and training as an assistant and a guide. I now help to train new assistants by talking to them about the stained glass. I have, however, had a long association with the cathedral, in the course of which I have researched the relics of St Thomas Becket and the Red Dean of Canterbury, Hewlett Johnson.
List your top three monuments/locations associated with Becket?
The two most important locations choose themselves: the martyrdom (pictured left) in the north-west transept where Becket was murdered in 1170 and the site in the Trinity Chapel (pictured at the bottom of the item) where his shrine stood from July 1220 until its destruction on the orders of Henry VIII in 1538.
Why Becket? What is it about Becket that has inspired your tour/your research?
I think that almost everyone is inspired by St Thomas, though probably for differing reasons. For me, it is partly the (sometimes misplaced) heroism of his struggle to defend the traditional rights of the church against a powerful and autocratic king, and partly the mystery that surrounds the fate of his relics when his shrine was destroyed in 1538. The fact that we simply don’t know what happened to his bones is a source of much fascination (and not a little speculation) among our visitors.
Apart from all the obvious locations in the Cathedral building, such as the martyrdom, what other Becket related material from the Cathedral do you draw upon?
The Cathedral Archives furnished me with a lot of the material that I used when I was writing about Becket’s bones. The staff there were incredibly helpful, not only with older sources but also with more recent ones like the minutes of chapter meetings. There are, too, many very knowledgeable people associated with the Cathedral in one capacity or another, and you can always learn a great deal by talking to them.
Tell us more…….when is your next tour or talk and can we come along?
I don’t do many tours now because new guides are coming on stream each year and they are much more up-to-date than I am. In any case, you can easily become stale and repetitive if you do it for too long. I am always happy to talk about Becket, and last year I made a DVD about his relics. It’s on sale in the Visits’ Office. The arrival of the Becket relic from Hungary in May this year may prompt a new wave of interest in the possible whereabouts of the bones, so I may yet find a new angle on an old puzzle!