2020 is the 850th anniversary of the murder of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury
Year-long programme of Becket events unveiled
British Museum to host first ever major UK exhibition on Thomas Becket’s life, death and legacy
A year-long programme of events marking the 850th anniversary of one of the most shocking crimes in European history, the murder of Thomas Becket, are unveiled . ‘Becket2020’ will see venues in London, Canterbury and beyond host a range of events across the year to commemorate his murder – a moment which changed the course of history. The programme includes performances, pageants, talks, film screenings and religious services, and culminates in the first ever major UK exhibition to explore Becket’s life, death and legacy opened at the British Museum in October.
Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, was murdered on 29 December 1170 – 849 years ago. He was killed in Canterbury Cathedral by four knights with close ties to his former friend King Henry II, as eye-witnesses looked on. Becket was quickly canonised a saint by the Pope and his shrine at Canterbury became a major centre of European pilgrimage before being destroyed on the orders of Henry VIII in the early years of the English Reformation. In both the Roman Catholic and Anglican Church he is recognised as a saint and a martyr.
In 2020, Canterbury will be the centre of activity celebrating Becket. A major new production of T. S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral will be performed for the first time in Canterbury Cathedral in October and is a joint initiative with The Marlowe Theatre. The Cathedral will also host a special choral evensong service to commemorate Becket’s martyrdom on the 29 December 2020. Elsewhere in the city, other highlights include Saint Thomas Becket – World Celebrity Healer at The Beaney, a community creative project focusing on mental and physical health and well-being in the context of Becket’s fame. In July, Canterbury’s fifth annual Medieval Pageant and Trail will take place, and commemorates Henry ll’s pilgrimage to Canterbury to perform penance for his association with the murder of Becket.
From London-merchant’s son to Archbishop
London, the city of Becket’s birth, will also host a range of important events. Thomas Becket (title tbc) at the British Museum will be the first time Becket’s life, death and legacy has been explored in a major exhibition in the UK. Opened in October, it will showcase an incredible array of over 100 objects associated with Becket, including manuscripts, jewellery, sculpture, stained glass and paintings, and will feature artefacts from the Museum’s collection as well as important loans from the UK and around the world. It will present Becket’s tumultuous journey: from London-merchant’s son to Archbishop; and from a revered saint in death, to a ‘traitor’ in the eyes of Henry VIII, over 350 years later. Highlights include a number of beautiful sacred reliquaries which once contained precious relics of Thomas Becket. These were taken across Continental Europe and speak to the profound international spread of his cult.
Naomi Speakman, co-curator of Thomas Becket at the British Museum, said: “the story of Thomas Becket’s life, death and legacy has all the hallmarks of a Game of Thrones plot. There’s drama, fame, royalty, power, envy, retribution, and ultimately a brutal murder that shocked Europe. These events had repercussions that have echoed out through time, and we’re delighted to be telling this important story for the first time in a major exhibition.”
From 15 October 2020 until 14 February 2021.
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