Lecture Series - Thomas Becket: Murder & The Making of a Saint

May 20, 2021

If you are unable to attend the live sessions, do not worry - all those who register will automatically be sent copies of the lectures to view in your own time (from around four hours after they take place).  Further details on how to register can be found at the end of this newsletter.


Thomas Becket: Murder & The Making of a Saint

On 29 December 1170, Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, was murdered in his cathedral, after years of quarrelling with King Henry II. Three years later he was declared a saint by Pope Alexander III, and in 1220 his body was translated to a glorious shrine in the Trinity Chapel, Canterbury Cathedral. Thomas Becket: Murder and the Making of a Saint, the British Museum exhibition (20 May – 22 August 2021) delayed a year, courtesy of Covid, commemorates the anniversaries of these dramatic events. This pair of webinars provides a context for these events using artefacts featured in the exhibition, including a miracle window from the Trinity Chapel, and a stone baptismal font from Lyngsjö church, Sweden, exhibited in England for the first time.

Thursday 10 June 2021 at 11am

Lecture 1 – Thomas Becket: Life & Death 
Appointed as Chancellor of England in 1155, Becket enjoyed a gilded life, and basked in the approbation of his king; no-one could have predicted he would die violently, slaughtered by four knights acting on Henry II’s orders. Relations between Becket and his king soured after Becket became Archbishop of Canterbury, primate of the English Church in 1162. Archbishop Becket resisted the Crown on various issues, opposition that culminated in his shocking murder, which desecrated Canterbury Cathedral and left Henry in danger of excommunication. Illuminated manuscripts, alabaster and ivory carvings and wall paintings featured in the BM’s exhibition, chronicle the life and death of England’s most notorious archbishop, and explain how, and why, his friendship with Henry failed.
Handout - Lecture 1.  You can download a handout to support the lecture here.


Thursday 17 June 2021 at 11am
Lecture 2 – Thomas Becket: Cult & Legacy
Within weeks of his death, miracles occurred thick and fast at Becket’s tomb in Canterbury Cathedral’s crypt, providing evidence to support his swift canonisation. The east end of the cathedral was rebuilt to accommodate a ravishing shrine for the precious saint and thousands of pilgrims flocked to Canterbury each year. Becket’s cult spread beyond England’s shores; France, Spain, Sicily, Saxony, and Scandinavia, celebrated the archbishop who had stood up to royal authority. No wonder Henry VIII, seeking to control the English Church, in the 1530s, regarded Becket as a persona non grata. The BM’s exhibition would antagonise Henry VIII, but it pays fitting homage, eight centuries after his death, to Becket’s legacy as Chancellor, Archbishop, and Martyr Saint.
Handout - Lecture 2.  You can download a handout to support the lecture here.
Sally Dormer
Dr Sally Dormer is an art historian who specialises in the Middle Ages. She studied History at Durham University before moving to the Courtauld Institute of Art, London University, where she completed an MA in Medieval Art History and a PhD on drawings in English illuminated manuscripts 960-1380. After brief stints working as a research assistant in the Department of Palaeography, University of London, and a curator in the Metalwork Department of the Victoria & Albert Museum she started lecturing at the V&A in the mid 1980s and never looked back. She is founder, and Course Director, of the V&A’s Early Medieval Year Course (300-1250), currently delivered on-line, and from 2000 – 2020, she was Dean of European Studies, an American university study abroad programme based in Tennessee, Durham, Oxford, and on the Continent. Sally currently lectures, or has lectured, and led study tours for The Arts Society (formerly NADFAS), the Art Fund, Gresham College, Cox & Kings, Swan Hellenic and Art Pursuits Abroad.

Format for Lecture

Sally will give two one-hour illustrated lectures for £19. During the lecture you will have the chance to submit written questions which Sally will answer at the end - if time permits.

You will not need to download any software and the lecture will work in any browser. For the best experience use a desktop or laptop - but it will also work on an iPad or similar tablet. You will be also able to re-watch or watch a recording after the lecture.

Register for Lectures - 10 & 17 June at 11am

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