Becket and London’s merchants

Bronze seal matrix depicting Becket on a ship.
© The Trustees of the British Museum​, 1880,0624.1
Origin/Date: England || 15th century (after 1462)
Ampulla (flask) depicting Becket on a ship. 
© The Trustees of the British Museum, 2001,0702.6
Origin/Date: Canterbury || 1170-1250

St Thomas was quickly adopted as the patron saint of English merchants, including those based in the Low Countries and Germany. Around the time of Becket’s death in 1170, London was beginning to flourish as a trading port, helped by the reconstruction of the road links across the Thames at London Bridge.

Becket’s position as London’s patron saint may have had a part to play in London’s merchants adopting him as their protector when they sailed to other ports and to the Continent. More generally, St Thomas was seen as a patron saint of seafarers, and one of his pilgrim badges depicted him on a boat on his return from exile in France.

By the 14th century ‘fraternities’ of England’s merchants had developed for mutual aid and protection, and St Thomas was adopted as their saintly patron.

Merchants, especially the company known as the Merchant Adventurers, often used the Hospital of St Thomas of Acre on Cheapside both as a place of worship and as a storehouse for their most important documents.

The separate Mercers’ Company followed the Adventurers in adopting St Thomas as their patron and the Hospital as their meeting place, and eventually took the site over as their Hall.

Chaucer's Merchant. 
The Canterbury Tales (The Ellesmere Manuscript)
© The Huntington Library, San Marino, California, EL 26 C9 f.143v
Origin/Date: England || 1400-1410
Chaucer's Shipman. 
The Canterbury Tales (The Ellesmere Manuscript)
© The Huntington Library, San Marino, California, EL 26 C9 f.102v​
Origin/Date: England || 1400-1410


Patron Saint

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


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.

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.