Within weeks of Becket’s murder pilgrims from his native city of London flocked to his tomb, with many reporting miraculous cures.
One of the earliest miracles was effected on a dumb priest who received a vision to go to Canterbury to be cured just eight nights after the murder. A shoemaker called Gilbert was cured of a fistula by St Thomas’ holy water and in thanks walked the fifty miles from London to Canterbury in a day. Another pilgrim named Matilda had given birth to a sickly child after getting drunk with a man named Roger at a London wine tavern. Her child was healed after she tearfully prayed to Becket.
One famous miracle occurred to Solomon, a Londoner nearly 100 years old and blind for around six years, who prayed to Becket that he would be able to see again. His prayer was granted while he was being led to church in London the next day, and in front of crowds of witnesses he declared that it was ‘thanks to our new martyr’.
The numbers of pilgrims from London in the 1170s were so great that a metal-caster called Augustine had the task of melting down the used metal flasks called ampullae, which had carried St Thomas’ holy water back to the city, so they could be re-cast as new devotional items dedicated to Becket.
Pilgrims coming from the City or the north may have stopped at the chapel of Thomas Becket on London Bridge, where there were relics for them to venerate. By the late 14th century pilgrimage from London to Becket’s shrine was so popular that there were dedicated stables at Southwark, Rochester and Canterbury where horses could be hired for the journey, which took between two and four days each way. This was around the time that Chaucer wrote his account of such a pilgrimage in his Canterbury Tales, with his pilgrims gathering at the Tabard Inn in Southwark.
The best evidence for Becket’s popularity among medieval Londoners are the many pilgrim badges that have been recovered from the Thames. There is much debate about whether these were deliberately thrown into the water as a symbolic gesture, possibly from the chapel on London Bridge, or were dumped into the river as household waste after they had broken or outlived their use.
Some pilgrim badges were devotedly kept as a ‘sign and memory’ of the saint and his shrine, the contemplation of which should draw the pilgrim back for a return visit.
In the late 15th century the children of Miles Freebridge, of Aldermanbury in London, were playing with a badge of St Thomas that Miles had kept for such devotional purposes when the infant child choked on it and had to be rescued by prayers to the late King Henry VI, who was believed to be a saint.
When the monks of Canterbury were looking to promote the major anniversary (‘Jubilee’) of Thomas Becket’s martyrdom in 1420, they began by writing a poem listing the benefits of the pilgrimage and nailing it to the doors of St Paul’s Cathedral for Londoners to see. In turn, one of the citizens who went to the Jubilee came up with a short prayer for the saint that pleased the monks of Canterbury so much that they wrote it on the walls around Becket’s shrine.
In origin a Germanic word meaning a chest or reliquary, this term describes something which contains a sacred object. It can thus be applied to an elaborate tomb around the body of a saint, a cabinet containing a relic or to the whole architectural complex where such a body or relic rests.
In England since the twelfth century, a chapel has meant either a part of a church containing an altar and used for worship, or a free-standing building used in a similar way. It can also mean a place of worship in a private house. The term comes from the ‘capella’ or cloak of St Martin, a major relic in France, the name of which was first applied to the building where the cloak was kept and eventually to other religious buildings.
Someone who journeys to holy places (such as biblical sites or shrines of the saints) to seek God's help, to give thanks, or as an act of penance.
An event evoking wonder, in which a person is believed to be the agent of God's power. In the Bible. miracles tend to be associated with key people at critical periods of history, such as the Exodus. the ministry of Jesus and the Apostles.
Remains of a saint or articles which have been in contact with a saint and in which some of the saint's power is believed to reside.
(c.1342-1400) English author, poet, administrator, courtier and diplomat, who’s most famous work is The Canterbury Tales.
Journey to holy places (such as biblical sites or shrines of the saints) to seek God's help, to give thanks or as an act of penance.
Devotion - Venerate
1. A deep attachment or commitment to a cause or person. 2. A religious observance or act of worship, especially a form of prayer or worship for special use.
A Holy Year, first instituted in 1300 by Pope Boniface VIII who offered an indulgence to all who went to Rome in that year. At Canterbury they were on 50 year anniversaries of Becket’s martyrdom, notably in 1370 and 1420.
English Archbishop (Archbishop of Canterbury from 1162) and martyr, famously murdered by knights at Canterbury Cathedral after a dispute with Henry II. Miracles were soon recorded at his tomb. Canonised in 1173, his shrine became one of the most popular pilgrimage centres in Christendom. Patron saint of London with St Paul.
In the city of London Solomon, known to be around 100 years old, had eyes which had clouded over, and he was unable to see. For around six years his eyes had been deprived of light, and in this year the light of England and of heaven [St Thomas Becket] lit up and illuminated the land. Solomon decided to change his life, and went to the relics of the martyr with blinded eyes. In the evening he prayed to the Martyr, and in the morning he heard his voice. When the woman who led him to church came that morning, he opened his eyes and said to his guide ‘Who are you, disgraceful woman, who appears before me so clothed? Go! Put on your clothes, and do not approach me semi-dressed in such thin garments.’ She was astounded: ‘What?’ she said, ‘my lord, you can see me?’ ‘I can see you,’ he said, ‘and see you well, thanks to the Lord and our new Martyr’. And his neighbours and friends heard, because he praised the mercy of the Lord and the Martyr, and they congratulated him. So many Londoners came to see Solomon, and caused many to return to the Martyr much more devotedly, as they had witnessed this sign.
Benedict of Peterborough, Miracles of St Thomas, 1170s