Summer School 2021

Art and iconoclasm: the cult of St Thomas Becket


Hayden Proud, curator of historical paintings and sculpture, Iziko Museums of South AfricaIn 2020 the 850th anniversary of the brutal murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral was marked, as well as the 800th anniversary of the translation of his relics to a new shrine. After 300 years St Thomas Becket suffered a ‘second martyrdom’ at the hands of Protestant iconoclasts when King Henry VIII broke with the Roman Catholic Church; St Thomas was decreed an outlaw and traitor. In 1538 his shrine was smashed and its bejewelled and gilded treasures confiscated by the Crown. Becket’s relics disappeared and his images were pulled down. His name was purged from all religious books and his feast days were prohibited.

This course will look at the surviving medieval art and architecture devoted to Canterbury’s ‘holy blissful martir’ in context, as well as recent scholarly speculation on the nature of what has been lost.


  1. St Thomas of Canterbury: his ‘lives’ and legend
  2. A martyrium for the new saint: rebuilding the choir of Canterbury Cathedral, 1174–1220
  3. The art of the medieval metalworker: Becket’s shrine, reliquaries and pilgrim badges
  4. An international cult: St Thomas Becket in surviving medieval manuscripts, stained glass and painting
  5. Defaced and unsainted: Becket, the Protestant Reformation and its aftermath


This course will be offered on the Microsoft Teams platform. Participants will be sent a link.


Recommended reading

Barlow, F. 1986. Thomas Becket. London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson.

Binski, P. 2004. Becket’s Crown: Art and Imagination in Gothic England 1170–1300. Newhaven and London: Yale University Press.

Butler, J. 1995. The Quest for Becket’s Bones: The Mystery of the Relics of St Thomas Becket of Canterbury. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.

Hearn, M.F. 1994. ‘Canterbury Cathedral and the Cult of Becket’, The Art Bulletin, Vol. 76, No. 1 (Mar), pp. 19–52.


Date: 25–29 January
Time: 3.00 pm