With museums allowed finally to reopen next month, those of us who have been starved of culture are looking forward eagerly to the British Museum’s ‘Thomas Becket: murder and the making of a saint’. The exhibition, originally scheduled for last year, marks the 850th anniversary of the country’s most famous political assassination – the grisly murder of the Archbishop of Canterbury on 29 December 1170 by four knights in the service of Henry II.
Becket’s bloody demise was a seminal moment in English history – one that would feature in art throughout medieval Europe and transform the city of Canterbury into a centre of pilgrimage. But it also has a particular 21st-century resonance – as all those who recoiled in horror at recent politically motivated killings, such as that of the dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, or the attempted assassinations of the former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, may attest.
This week on The Past, we look at Becket’s extraordinary life, his dramatic death, and his long legacy. In the latest issue of Minerva magazine and on the latest edition of PastCast, our unmissable podcast, the curators Lloyd de Beer and Naomi Speakman offer a sneak preview of the British Museum exhibition, charting the rise and fall of Becket’s friendship with the king, and explaining how Henry’s ‘turbulent priest’ so quickly became a revered saint after his demise.
Elsewhere on The Past, we delve into the archives to bring you the most complete coverage of the Becket story –including a major piece from Current Archaeology magazine, published to commemorate the 850th anniversary of his martyrdom, in which Nathalie Cohen, the Cathedral Archaeologist at Canterbury Cathedral, reveals how recent works have shed vivid new light on the Church of England’s most sacred space.
And if that’s not enough, you can even test your knowledge with our fiendish Friday quiz – which this week will also be devoted to Thomas Becket. Good luck – and we hope you enjoy this week’s edition of The Past!
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