Becket and London’s Seals

London Bridge seal matrix. The figure of Thomas Becket is seated on London Bridge with a boat passing through the arches below.
© London Metropolitan Archives, CLA/007/EM/02/B/050
Origin/Date: London || 1240 x 1256

In the early 13th century, the image of Thomas Becket was added to four of the most important seals in medieval London. Seals were used to authenticate documents, created by pressing with a carved metal ‘matrix’ into hot sealing wax and attached to charters. They were expensive, highly artistic items, used to powerfully express aspects of a group or person’s identity.

An interesting feature of many of London seals which show Becket is that they display him as living, resurrected and on a heavenly throne, rather than in the more familiar image of his martyrdom. In Canterbury, the seals of the Cathedral, the Archbishops, and the city all showed the martyrdom. In London, representing the character of his cult and his birth there, he is shown actively protecting the city and its population.

Becket appeared on the ‘Common Seal’ of London, which was used by the city corporation, in his role as London’s patron saint. He is on the reverse, with the city’s other patron saint St Paul on the front, obverse, side. He appears on a throne above medieval London, seen from the north, with the massive central spire of St Paul’s Cathedral below him. On either side groups of citizens and clergy pray to him. The City itself asks for his protection in the motto around the edge: ‘Cease not, St Thomas, to protect me who gave birth to you.’ On the seal of the mayoralty of London, Becket appears in similar form, on an elaborate throne alongside St Paul. Becket’s father Gilbert had been sheriff of London, a forerunner of the mayor, so there was a family connection with the position. On the seal of the Hospital of St Thomas of Acre Becket appears on a throne, handing a cross to a figure representing the masters of the Hospital. The scene symbolises Becket giving his authority to the Hospital.

Patron Saint

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


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


Cleric, an ordained person. Derived from the Greek word for a 'lot', this term refers to anyone ordained to Christian ministry, including deacons, priests and bishops. The clergy have specific responsibilities and duties within the Church which set them apart from the laity, the ordinary members.


From the Greek ‘martus’ meaning ‘witness'. One who suffers death on account of faith.

St Paul

 (d. c. 65) 'Apostle to the Gentiles'. Born Saul of Tarsus, a Jew and Roman citizen. His initial hostility to the early church was overcome by his conversion on the road to Damascus (Acts 9: 1-19). Using the Roman version of his name, Paul travelled through Asia Minor and into Europe preaching to both Jews and Gentiles. Eventually arrested and taken to Rome for trial. Tradition holds that he was executed during the persecution under Nero. The New Testament letters bearing his name stress that salvation is offered as a gift (by God's grace) through faith, as a result of the forgiveness won by Christ's death on the cross and is available to Jews and non-Jews alike (e.g. Ephesians 2). Supposedly buried at Rome with St Peter and the two are often depicted together. Patron saint of London with Thomas Becket.

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.


The chief official of a city or town, usually elected or appointed on a yearly basis.


 The chief royal official in a county or region, with particular responsibility for law enforcement