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The Murder of Thomas Becket, in John of Salisbury's 'Life of Becket'

The Murder of Thomas Becket, in John of Salisbury's 'Life of Becket'

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 1180

Shelfmark: Cotton MS Claudius B II

Item number: f.341r

Genre: Manuscript

On 29 December 1170, the archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket, was murdered by four knights in the cathedral, an act brought on by his bitter dispute with Henry II. Soon declared a saint, he developed a following throughout Europe and his image was depicted on all types of church-related objects. John of Salisbury, a distinguished scholar and friend of Becket, wrote a Life of Becket, including his account of the murder, which he witnessed. This manuscript has a copy of it and Becket's letters, which Prior Alan (late Abbot of Tewkesbury) had collected. Its pictures of his martyrdom are some of the earliest images, made at Canterbury before the development of standardised depictions.

Illustrations in lives of saints often have multiple images, to show stories of miracles or martyrdoms. This illustration of Becket's martyrdom is placed before John of Salisbury's account of the event. From top left, a servant announces the knights' arrival to Becket, seated at a table; next to this, the four knights at the door; below, the martyrdom, and finally an unusual scene of the four knights in penance at the martyr's tomb.

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