The tunicle which former Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Becket is thought to have been wearing when he was murdered is to return to Canterbury Cathedral for an exhibition marking the 850th anniversary of his martyrdom. Archbishop Becket was murdered in Canterbury Cathedral on 29 December 1170 by four knights of Henry II. Tradition says that they interpreted Henry’s words “will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?” as a command for him to be assassinated.
The relic will go on display to mark 850 years since his death and 800 years since his remains were moved from the Cathedral’s crypt into a new shrine. The tunicle is housed inside a 17th century glass reliquary which usually resides at the Papal Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome. It is being loaned to the Cathedral by the Vatican for public display from 4 July to 3 August this year.
“Venerated by pilgrims for hundreds of years, the artefact will be a focus for prayer for the thousands of pilgrims expected to come to Canterbury this summer, and will give historical perspective to the bishops of the worldwide Anglican Communion attending the 2020 Lambeth Conference in Canterbury during this time,” a cathedral spokesman said.
“An artefact of huge historical interest – and one that demonstrates Canterbury Cathedral’s long and eventful story – the tunicle will also provide visitors with the opportunity to get a rare close-up glimpse of an item from a key event in English history. . .
“There is strong scholarly support for the relic’s authenticity: a 1992 study confirmed that the garment dates to the late 12th century or early 13th century, is probably of northern French or English origin, and, although a simple garment, is of the finest textile and sewing quality.”
The Precentor of Canterbury Cathedral, Max Kramer, commented: “the relic reminds us of the cost of bearing faithful witness to Christ. Many of the bishops who will be attending the Lambeth Conference lead Christian communities suffering violent persecution and oppression for their faith.
“We hope that seeing the garment associated with Becket’s death, and being reminded of his extraordinary legacy will help them to find the strength and encouragement of God as they continue to witness to our shared faith with great courage in difficult times.”
A number of other historic artefacts have been loaned to Canterbury Cathedral – the mother church of the Anglican Communion – for the exhibition. These include an early Canterbury Cross; a gold pendant dating from shortly after St Augustine reintroduced Christianity to England; and the stole of Oscar Romero.