Pilgrimage Badge: Shrine of St. Tomas Becket

The photo above is one example of a pilgrim’s badge from the Shrine of Saint Thomas Becket created around 1400. Badges were souvenirs pilgrims could purchase to remember their journey. There are many types of pilgrims in many religions, but the Shrine of St. Thomas was one of Christendom’s most popular and sought after. Badges of Christian Saints can be found all over the world, but the highest number created belong to Becket.

Thomas Becket was born around 1120 to a simple London merchant who worked hard to educate his son to the fullest. He attracted the attention of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Theobald, where his skills as a spy and diplomat were noticed by Henry II. The English King became friendly to Thomas and elected him as his Chancellor, and he would succeed his former mentor in 1161 as Archbishop of Canterbury. Henry believed himself to have an ally in the church against the over-bearing policies of Rome, but he was wrong. Thomas took his vows as Archbishop very seriously, and became zealous about protecting papal authority. Fearing for his life, he fled England in 1164. 

He returned in 1170 to the public, rejoicing as he entered Canterbury, but the rays of victory would soon turn to clouds. Henry made a public plea that four knights took to their core: 

“What a parcel of fools and dastards have I nourished in my house, and not one of them will avenge me of this one upstart clerk.”

He was murdered in the cathedral on December 29th, and shock reverted through Europe as the news traveled. In 1173, he was canonized as a Saint and Henry was forced to do penance at his tomb. 

The saint’s bones were moved in 1220 to Trinity Chapel in the Canterbury Cathedral, which is  the pilgrimage this badge belongs traveled to. The Badge is one of the last images we have of Becket’s actual tomb since Henry VIII destroyed it during the Reformation. The Metropolitan describes the tomb as: 

“Created by the famed goldsmith Walter of Colchester, the tomb, supported on four bays, contained an effigy of Thomas Becket in ecclesiastical vestments. Here, raised above it, is the gabled shrine, encrusted with jewels on a trellis-like ground and surmounted by two ship models, one of which was damaged. A small figure points to a ruby, claimed to be the largest in existence and given in 1179 by the king of France. To the right another figure raises the cover of the shrine with ropes and a pulley.”

Much has changed in the world since the life of Becket and it may be safe to say it would not be pleased with it due to the dedication he had to the Catholic Church. We tend not to think about the history that becomes lost and buried, the saints never prayed to and the religions lost in the shuffles of the world. History is precious, though, fragile. The things we believe to be absolute, may not be whispered about in a thousand years. It is the smallest substances like stone foundations, carvings on a cave, or metal badges that connect us to who we are now. We follow the steps of our ancestors, but without treasures like these, we may have never known what that looked like. You can find this piece of history at the Met Fifth Avenue. 

Notable Sources:

“Archbishop Thomas Becket Is Murdered.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 9 Feb. 2010, http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/the-making-of-an-english-martyr.

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