Pilgrim's Badge of the Shrine of St. Thomas Becket at Canterbury

Date: 1350–1400

Geography: Made in Canterbury, England

Culture: British

Medium: Cast tin-lead alloy

Dimensions: Overall: 3 1/8 x 2 1/2 x 1/8in. (7.9 x 6.4 x 0.3cm)

Classification: Metalwork-Pewter

Credit Line: Gift of Dr. and Mrs. W. Conte, 2001

Accession Number: 2001.310


Pilgrims' badges were inexpensive souvenirs, often made of impressed pewter, purchased by the faithful at holy sites as evidence of their journeys. This one has a particularly important documentary value, as it is one of the best visual records of England's premier shrine, that of Saint Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral. His murder in the cathedral in 1170 transformed him into one of the most venerated saints in Western Christendom, and his shrine instantly became a pilgrimage site. This badge shows the shrine before its plunder by Henry VIII's commissioners in 1538. The golden structure was ordered by Archbishop Thomas Langton and dedicated on July 7, 1220. Created by the famed goldsmith Walter of Colchester, the tomb, supported on four bays, contained an effigy of Thomas Becket in ecclesiastical vestments. Here, raised above, is the gable shrine, encrusted with jewels on a trellislike ground and surmounted by two ship models, one of which is damaged. A small figure points to a ruby, claimed to be the largest in existence and given in 1179 by the king of France. To the right, another figure raises the cover of the shrine with ropes and a pulley.

Pilgrims came from all over Europe to the shrine of Saint Thomas. A badge like this one might have been taken home and given to a sick relative in the hopes of effecting a miraculous cure.