John Heaton (jheaton) wrote,
John Heaton

Art on Sunday: Reliquary Chasse

I mentioned yesterday that today, the fifth day of Christmas, is the Feast Day of St. Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury who was murdered for his reluctance to go along with King Henry II wishes to limit clerical independence and weaken the ties between the Church in England and Rome. (It was more complicated than that, of course, but that's the gist of it.) Christians throughout Europe started venerating him soon after his assassination -- that's why the storytellers in The Canterbury Tales were traveling together; the were making a pilgrimage to Becket's shrine at Canterbury Cathedral -- and he was formally canonized in 1173. just slightly more than two years after his death.

Reliquaries depicting the martyrdom of St. Thomas Becket, such as this one, found in the collection of the British Museum, were very popular throughout Europe. This one shows Becket being attacked by two knights, though contemporary accounts are clear that there were four knights involved. Strange, but also very common; most reliquaries of this sort show only two or three attackers. Granted, space is limited on the front panel, but couldn't they have put the others on the side panel?

Unknown French (Limoges) artist
Reliquary Chasse with Scenes of the Martyrdom of Thomas Becket, ca. 1210
Enamel (champlevé) on copper alloy (gilded)
Reliquary Chasse with Scenes of the Martyrdom of Thomas Becket
The British Museum, London
Tags: art: decorative arts

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