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‘Cathedral treasure’ to be centrepiece of British Museum’s Becket exhibition

‘Cathedral treasure’ to be centrepiece of British Museum’s Becket exhibition

One of the Cathedral’s medieval Miracle Windows will be the extraordinary centrepiece in the British Museum’s major exhibition on the life, death and legacy of Thomas Becket, whose brutal murder inside Canterbury Cathedral in 1170 shook the Middle Ages.

Thomas Becket: murder and the making of a saint (22 April – 22 August 2021) will chart over 500 years of history, from Thomas Becket’s remarkable rise from ordinary beginnings to one of the most powerful figures in England, through to his enduring but divisive legacy in the centuries after his death. The story will be told through an array of over 100  stunning objects brought together for the first time, including rare loans from across the UK and Europe.

This is the first time one of the famed Miracle Windows – which were made in the early 1200s to surround Becket’s now-lost shrine in the Cathedral’s Trinity Chapel – have ever been lent, and the first time the glass has ever left the Cathedral, since their creation 800 years ago. The seven surviving windows, from an original series of twelve, tell several of the evocative stories of miracles attributed to Becket in the three years following his death, and are the only known depictions of Becket’s miracle stories in any media.

New research in collaboration with the foremost expert on the Becket miracles, Rachel Koopmans of York University, Toronto, has revealed that some of the panels have been in the wrong order for centuries. They were probably mixed up during a hasty rearrangement in the 1660s and the errors were discovered after close inspection of individual pieces under a microscope. When the window is shown at the British Museum, it will be rearranged in the correct narrative order, and this will be the first time in over 350 years that visitors will be able to view these panels as they were made to be seen. It will also be the very first time the window can be seen up-close at eye-level.

Leonie Seliger, Director of Stained Glass Conservation at Canterbury Cathedral, said: “The Miracle Windows are medieval versions of graphic novels illustrating the experiences of ordinary people. They greeted the pilgrims at the culmination of their journey to Becket’s shrine with images that would be reassuring and uplifting. The window that will be shown at the British Museum is only one of seven that remain, and they are one of Canterbury Cathedral’s greatest treasures.”

Thomas Becket: Life, Death and Legacy online conference

Tickets for the Cathedral’s online conference, Thomas Becket: Life, Death and Legacy – also in April – are now on sale. The conference is co-hosted by Canterbury Cathedral, Canterbury Christ Church University, and the University of Kent, with generous support from the British Academy.

The conference, which will last for three days, will examine the history visual and material culture, archaeology, architecture, literature, liturgy, musicology, and reception of Becket’s cult at Canterbury, across Europe and beyond, with keynote papers by Rachel Koopmans, Nicholas Vincent, Paul Webster, and Alec Ryrie.

Tickets will cost £25 per day, £10 per day for students, and free for a limited number of students of Canterbury Christ Church University and the University of Kent. Due to COVID-19 this will be an online event delivered via Zoom.

Learn more by downloading our Thomas Becket: Life, Death and Legacy short programme.


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