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British Museum Becket exhibition features treasures from the Parker Library

The British Museum exhibition Thomas Becket: murder and the making of a saint opens tomorrow and runs for the next three months. Marking the 850th anniversary of his brutal murder, this special exhibition presents Becket's tumultuous journey from a merchant's son to an archbishop, and from a revered saint in death to a 'traitor' in the eyes of Henry VIII more than 350 years later.

In a Museum blogpost, exhibition curators Lloyd de Beer and Naomi Speakman say, "The image of Becket’s bloody demise at the hands of four knights from the king’s entourage has been depicted countless times in sculpture, wall painting, stained glass, manuscript illumination and metalwork. In the exhibition you see the shocking scene on flasks sold to pilgrims, on brightly enamelled caskets made to hold Becket’s relics, and even on a stone font made for a parish church as far away as Sweden."

Amongst those images are included three items from the Parker Library, shown below.

 “We’re delighted to have been able to lend the British Museum these key items associated with Thomas Becket, his friendship circle, his shrine and his commemoration, for this important exhibition” - Donnelley Fellow Librarian and Director of the Parker Library, Dr Philippa Hoskin

MS 26, Folio 132r

Matthew Paris Chronica Majora

Matthew Paris OSB (c. 1200-1259), a Benedictine monk of St Albans Abbey, was their official chronicler who wrote chronicles covering both world history and British history. Matthew was also a talented artist who was both scribe and illustrator of his own chronicles. This folio includes this illustration of Becket's murder.


MS 46, folio 52v

John of Salisbury, the Policraticus and the Metalogicon

The Corpus manuscript is sometimes described as John of Salisbury's (c. 1120-1180) own copy that was presented by Salisbury to Archbishop Thomas Becket. Salisbury was present when Becket was murdered and wrote a Life of Becket which included an account of the event.

MS 411, Folio 1v

The Becket Psalter

Probably written at Tours in the tenth century, with additions including this line-drawing of a standing man in a very English style.

A 16th century note claims that the book, once decorated with silver gilt and jewels, was owned by two archbishops of Canterbury including Thomas Becket. Parker does not seem to have celebrated the association with this saint, whose influence on English affairs he is unlikely to have considered positive.

Book tickets for the exhibition.