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12th Century St Davids represented in British Museum exhibition: Thomas Becket. Murder and the Making of a Saint

23 April 2021 | Mari James

 

The Very Rev'd Dr Sarah Rowand Jones, Dean of St Davids Cathedral, with crozier on display in Cathedral Treasury. © St Davids Cathedral
The Very Rev'd Dr Sarah Rowand Jones, Dean of St Davids Cathedral, with crozier on display in Cathedral Treasury. © St Davids Cathedral

St Davids Cathedral in west Wales is loaning one of its 12th Century croziers to the British Museum for its major summer exhibition. ‘Thomas Becket: murder and the making of a saint’ will run in London from 20th May 2021 to 22 August 2021.

The crozier is one of several medieval artefacts uncovered in 1865 during restoration work by architect George Gilbert Scott to support the fragile Cathedral tower. Croziers, as well as rings and chalices, were found in the tombs of Bishop Richard de Carew, Bishop of St Davids 1256-1280, and Bishop Thomas Beck, Bishop of St Davids 1280-1293.

Thomas Becket: murder and the making of a saint is the first major UK exhibition on the life, death and legacy of Thomas Becket, whose brutal murder inside Canterbury Cathedral in 1170 shook the middle ages. It will chart over 500 years of history from Becket’s remarkable rise from ordinary beginnings to become one of the most powerful figures in Norman England, through to his enduring but divisive legacy in the centuries after his death. The story will be told through an array of over 100 stunning objects brought together for the first time, including rare loans from across the UK and Europe. The crozier loaned by St Davids, dated to the 12th century, will show visitors to the exhibition an example of what the church used during Becket’s own lifetime.

Thomas Becket was Archbishop of Canterbury from 1162 to 29 December 1170 when he was killed by soldiers of King Henry II during a Vespers service in Canterbury Cathedral – Becket had been in dispute with the King over the powers the monarch had over the church. It was also Henry II who blocked the appointment as Bishop of St Davids of Cymro-Norman scholar Gerald de Barri (also known as Gerald the Welshman, Gerallt Cymro or Geraldus Cambrensis). In his place, Henry appointed the Norman monk Peter de Leia, who became responsible for rebuilding the Cathedral in 1181 in the form we largely know it today. King Henry had also, largely unsuccessfully, fought against Arglwydd Rhys ap Gryffudd (the Lord Rhys), Prince of Deheubarth and south Wales. Gerallt Cymro and Arglwydd Rhys are both buried in St Davids Cathedral.

 

Mari James, Cathedral Library Development Officer, at installation of crozier in British Museum display. © The Trustees of The British Museum
Mari James, Cathedral Library Development Officer, at installation of crozier in British Museum display. © The Trustees of The British Museum

Within a year of Thomas Becket’s murder, Henry II made a pilgrimage to the shrine of St David on 29 September 1171 which was recorded in the medieval Welsh Annals, Brut y Tywysogion, or Chronicles of the Princes. The 850th anniversary of this visit will be marked in St Davids Cathedral in September 2021. St Davids had been a significant pilgrimage destination following the affirmation by Pope Callixtus II in 1123 that two pilgrimages to St Davids were equivalent to one to Rome. Gerald recorded that the King made his second pilgrimage the following year, on 1 April 1172. The Cathedral has a chapel dedicated to St Thomas Becket, which may have been built on the site of the King’s visit to the older building.

The Very Rev’d Dr Sarah Rowland Jones, Dean of St Davids said, ‘The 12th century was an important period in Welsh history, seeing the transition from rule by native princes of Wales to that of the Norman and English monarchy. We are delighted to share the history of our Cathedral in the medieval period, through loaning one of our treasures to the British Museum for a few months. It is a pleasure to contribute to this exceptional exhibition on St Thomas Becket’s life, murder and continuing influence.’

The crozier will return to St Davids Cathedral after the exhibition closes and will then again be on public display in the Cathedral Treasury. 

The Crozier’s Journey can be followed on St Davids Cathedral social media channels, including on Twitter, @StDavCathLib, on www.facebook.com/stdavidscathedral/, and on  www.youtube.com/stdavidscathedral1181  

 

Information on the British Museum exhibition can be found on the British Museum website at: www.britishmuseum.org/becket  Online booking is essential to view the exhibition including the St Davids Cathedral crozier. Booking is now open.