Devotion to Becket in medieval London

Barber Surgeons Instrument Case, back detail.
© The Worshipful Company of Barbers
Origin/Date: England || c.1520-25

While Thomas Becket was patron saint of London, and his shrine in Canterbury a very popular pilgrimage destination for Londoners, it is debatable how far he inspired popular devotion amongst the people of the City. Besides the Merchants, there do not seem to have been any devotional guilds dedicated to him.

The sites of his cult, particularly his birthplace, were important for civic ceremony, but also appear to have attracted donations and visits from citizens especially on Becket’s feast days. Many important Londoners asked to be buried at Becket’s birthplace.

Perhaps most importantly Becket was seen as a city saint who was often grouped with other more devotionally popular saints, such as St Edmund of Abingdon, St Edmund of Bury, and St Katherine.

Throughout the medieval period Londoners  prayed to him and visited his shrines because of his importance to the city, even if they might personally feel devotion towards other, more accessible, saints.

There have been other items found that help to suggest private devotion to Becket, such gold finger rings, probably from London.



Barber Surgeons Instrument Case, front view.
© The Worshipful Company of Barbers​
Origin/Date: England || c.1520-25
Finger ring, inscribed image of Becket and two other saints.
© Museum of London, 83.514
Origin/DateEngland || 15th century




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.

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.

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.

St Edmund of Abingdon

(c. 1175-1240) Archbishop of Canterbury from 1233 to his death. A theologian and reforming archbishop, he was put forward for canonization by his fellow bishops and recognised as a saint in 1246. Although his body was buried at Pontigny in France he was popular in England until at least the end of the 13th century.

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.