Height: 15.500 cm
Width: 21.000 cm
Diameter: 9.500 cm
On loan from the Society of Antiquaries of London 110
12th century AD
From Limoges, France
A Thomas à Becket reliquary found in Naples
This reliquary once held some of the remains of Archbishop Thomas à Becket, who was murdered in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170. Becket was made a saint three years later, after which his relics were distributed throughout Europe. At least forty caskets were made in precious Limoges enamel to house them. This one depicts Becket's murder and entombment. The renowned antiquary and collector Sir William Hamilton (1730-1803) found it while he was travelling in Naples and presented it to the Society of Antiquaries in 1801.
The Society of Antiquaries had been founded in 1717 and was devoted to the study of the history of Britain. It did, however, share many interests and members with the Royal Society. For instance, Martin Folkes (1690-1754), a wealthy numismatist, was President of both societies. But by the time the Society of Antiquaries was granted its Royal Charter in 1751, their respective historical and scientific interests had become established. By the end of the eighteenth century, the members of the Society of Antiquaries were mainly interested in medieval antiquities and history, of which this casket was a fine example. It was common for members to present items like this to the Society's collection.