Antiphonal; Illuminated letter showing pilgrims & clergy at Shrine of St Thomas
Medium: Ink, pigments and gold on vellum
This illumination comes from a French manuscript of church music, roughly contemporary with Chaucer. It shows two bishops blessing pilgrims at a shrine. Shrines were often set on short columns or pierced by large openings so pilgrims could get as close as possible to the remains of their venerated saints. Some even slept overnight "within" a shrine.
Thomas Becket was murdered in 1170 – a "holy, blisful martyr", Chaucer writes in his Prologue to the ‘Canterbury Tales’. The crypt housing his shrine escaped damage by the great fire that destroyed most of the cathedral in 1174. On 7 July 1220, in the presence of King Henry III, Becket’s remains were moved with great and solemn ceremony to a new shrine built behind the high altar and encrusted in gold and jewels. It was this shrine that marked the end of Chaucer’s pilgrims’ journey.