Becket as London’s Patron Saint


City of London Common Seal. Becket is shown surrounded by both clergy and merchants, with the City of London below.
© Museum of London
Origin/Date: England || c. 1219 (?)


In life Thomas Becket had an often hostile relationship with London, the city of his birth. Yet after his murder Londoners flocked to his shrine and soon adopted him as patron saint of the city alongside St Paul. As early as 1173 one of Becket’s biographers, William FitzStephen, was writing about the connection between London and the new saint, claiming that he had ‘glorified’ two cities: ‘London by the rising and Canterbury by the setting of his sun.’ Building on this imagery, a popular hymn praised him as ‘the light of Londoners’ (lux Londoniarum).

As well as his being the ‘rising sun’ of London, the aftermath of Becket’s murder saw the city itself physically rising as it was rebuilt on stone foundations after disastrous fires in the 1130s. The construction of London Bridge from 1176 was based around funds for a chapel dedicated to Thomas Becket at its centre, and the co-operation of the citizens needed to organise such a massive project was an important factor in the development of London’s civic identity.

Wyngaerde's 1543 Panorama of London, engraving by Nathaniel Whittock.
Origin/Date: England || 1849

The seal of the City, designed in the late 12th century, shows St Paul on one side and Becket on the other sitting in majesty’ over London as patron and protector of the citizens. The inscription, asking Becket to guard the interests of the City, reads ‘Do not cease, St Thomas, to protect me who brought you forth’. He also appeared, alongside St Paul, on the seals of the mayors of London.

Thomas’ patronage was expressed in various ways throughout the medieval period. During the Third Crusade he appeared in a vision to those on the London ship and saved it from a storm. In the 1240s he appeared in another vision to tear down the newly-built walls of the Tower of London which were oppressing the City. Londoners were particularly likely to go on pilgrimage to his shrine in Canterbury. His birth site and the supposed site of his parents’ graves in St Paul’s Cathedral became important sites of later medieval civic ceremonial.

His position as patron of the entire city seems to have meant that he appeared less in the personal devotions of individual Londoners and their religious guilds. His position and protection was on a more overarching corporate level. As such he was often paired in songs and sermons with other saints popular in the City such as St Katherine and St Edmund, or with political celebrities including Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, and King Henry V.

At the Reformation Becket’s name and image were scrubbed from the City, and his status as patron saint of London forgotten. Many of the churches dedicated to him, including St Thomas’ Hospital Southwark were re-dedicated to St Thomas the Apostle, and he was removed from the City’s seals.

Patron Saint

A saint chosen or regarded as a protector of or intercessor for a particular place, church, person, place, or occupation.


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.

In Majesty

Representation of Christ or a saint enthroned in glory surrounded by angels or symbols of the Four Evangelists.


A talk which provides religious instruction or exhortation.

St Katherine

Supposedly a 4th century martyr from Alexandria in Egypt whose relics were moved to Mount Sinai by angels. Her cult increased in popularity from the 9th century, and by the 1100s she was one of the most popular female saints in Western Christianity, including in England. She is perhaps now best known through the ‘Catherine wheel’ firework, referencing her torturers’ attempts to break her on a giant wheel.

St Edmund

(d. 869) Anglo-Saxon king and martyr whose shrine at Bury St Edmunds attracted many pilgrims.

Thomas Earl of Lancaster

The holder of five earldoms, Thomas of Lancaster effectively governed England during part of the reign of Edward II. However, in 1322 he was the head of a rebellion which was halted at the Battle of Boroughbridge. Executed by his political enemies near Pontefract Castle in Yorkshire, Thomas came to be regarded as a martyr. His beheading may be the subject of a wall painting from the 1340s at South Newington in Oxfordshire. His cult is just one medieval example of the instance of a political martyr who came to be regarded as an unofficial saint. 

King Henry V

(1386-1422) King of England from 1413, and renowned as a military commander after his successes in battle against the French armies.


Wax discs attached to official documents to prove they are authentic.


Religious poetry set to music and sung during worship. New Testament writers talk about Psalms and Hymns, the scriptural poems of the Old Testament and new songs, some of the texts of which may be incorporated into the Bible (for example, Philippians 2: 5-11). In the Middle Ages the term hymn can be broadly applied to Christian songs, it is perhaps most frequently used to designate works that do not fulfill a more specific role within the liturgy 

Thomas Becket

 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.