Posted by: frroberts | October 5, 2017

Destination Canterbury

From wikipedia

A pivotal moment in the history of the cathedral was the murder of the archbishop, Thomas Becket, in the north-west transept (also known as the Martyrdom) on Tuesday, 29 December 1170, by knights of King Henry II. The king had frequent conflicts with the strong-willed Becket and is said to have exclaimed in frustration, “Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?” Four knights took it literally and murdered Becket in his own cathedral. After the Anglo-Saxon Ælfheah, Becket was the second Archbishop of Canterbury to be murdered.

The posthumous veneration of Becket made the cathedral a place of pilgrimage. This brought both the need to expand the cathedral and the wealth that made it possible….

In 1180-4, in place of the old, square-ended, eastern chapel, the present Trinity Chapel was constructed, a broad extension with an ambulatory, designed to house the shrine of St Thomas Becket.[20] A further chapel, circular in plan, was added beyond that, which housed further relics of Becket, [20] widely believed to have included the top of his skull, struck off in the course of his assassination. This latter chapel became known as the “Corona” or “Becket’s Crown”.[21] These new parts east of the choir transepts were raised on a higher crypt than Ernulf’s choir, necessitating flights of steps between the two levels. Work on the chapel was completed in 1184, [20] but Becket’s remains were not moved from his tomb in the crypt until 1220.[22] Further significant interments in the Trinity Chapel included those of Edward Plantagenet (The “Black Prince“) and King Henry IV.

The shrine in the Trinity Chapel was placed directly above Becket’s original tomb in the crypt. A marble plinth, raised on columns, supported what an early visitor, Walter of Coventry, described as “a coffin wonderfully wrought of gold and silver, and marvellously adorned with precious gems”.[23] Other accounts make clear that the gold was laid over a wooden chest, which in turn contained an iron-bound box holding Becket’s remains.[24] Further votive treasures were added to the adornments of the chest over the years, while others were placed on pedestals or beams nearby, or attached to hanging drapery.[25] For much of the time the chest (or “feretory“) was kept concealed by a wooden cover, which would be theatrically raised by ropes once a crowd of pilgrims had gathered.[22][24] The Dutch humanist Desiderius Erasmus, who visited in 1512–4, recorded that, once the cover was raised, “the Prior … pointed out each jewel, telling its name in French, its value, and the name of its donor; for the principal of them were offerings sent by sovereign princes.”[26]

The income from pilgrims (such as those portrayed in Geoffrey Chaucer‘s Canterbury Tales) who visited Becket’s shrine, which was regarded as a place of healing, largely paid for the subsequent rebuilding of the cathedral and its associated buildings. This revenue included the profits from the sale of pilgrim badges depicting Becket, his martyrdom, or his shrine.

The shrine was removed in 1538. Henry VIII summoned the dead saint to court to face charges of treason. Having failed to appear, he was found guilty in his absence and the treasures of his shrine were confiscated, carried away in two coffers and twenty-six carts.[27]

 

 


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