News of Archbishop Thomas Becket’s martyrdom spread widely. Miracles linked to him were reported from the night of Becket’s death, and soon increased. Canterbury Cathedral monks in April 1171 reopened the crypt where Becket was buried to allow visits to his tomb. They built a protective covering that still allowed the coffin to be venerated through holes on each side.
In 1173 Becket was canonised Saint Thomas of Canterbury by Pope Alexander III. The following year King Henry II came in penance to Canterbury, walking barefoot, disrobed and as a beggar, to Becket’s tomb. He freely admitted “that he did use such words as were the cause and origin” of Becket’s murder and was scourged.
Pilgrims from Britain and Europe flocked to the martyrdom site, and to get near the saint’s tomb. At a splendid ceremony in 1220 the relics of St Thomas were moved from the Cathedral Crypt, where they had lain since the murder in 1170. The new tomb, of grey and pink marble, stood at a focal point beyond the High Altar in the recently completed Choir. Badges depicting the head casket of St Thomas Becket were popular pilgrim souvenirs. Other badges were in the shape of hands. A selection is displayed at Canterbury Heritage Museum, which has the finest collection of medieval pilgrim badges of Becket. There are also ampulae – containers for holy water from the shrine, which was said to be tinged with the saint’s healing blood.
Medieval pilgrim badge of St Thomas Becket. © Canterbury Museums and Galleries collection