Alabaster panel showing Thomas Becket praying on his knees, as a sword, carried by a man behind him, comes down on his head.

Past exhibition

20 May – 22 August 2021

Room 35

The Joseph Hotung Great Court Gallery

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This five-star exhibition explored the murder that shook the Middle Ages through the life, death and legacy of Thomas Becket.

On 29 December 1170, Becket was assassinated in Canterbury Cathedral by four knights with close ties to King Henry II, an act that left Medieval Europe reeling. Becket was one of the most powerful figures of his time, serving as royal chancellor and later as Archbishop of Canterbury. Initially a close friend of Henry, the two men became engaged in a bitter dispute that culminated in his violent and public death – an event that sent shockwaves across Europe and caused an immense political fallout.

Marking the 850th anniversary of his brutal murder, this special exhibition presented Becket's tumultuous journey from a merchant's son to an archbishop, and from a revered saint in death to a 'traitor' in the eyes of Henry VIII more than 350 years later.

Visitors could get up close to the man, the murder and the legend through an incredible array of objects associated with Becket; from illuminated manuscripts, some of which included eyewitness accounts of the murder, to jewellery and sacred reliquaries. The exhibition featured objects from the British Museum collection as well as important loans from major collections across the UK and Europe, including an entire medieval stained glass window on loan for the first time from Canterbury Cathedral.



Discover free downloadable craft ideas to do at home. Make a pendant, a pilgrim badge or a reliquary casket inspired by the exhibition.

For children aged 6+:

You can also watch storyteller Wendy Shearer bring classic tales to life in these family-friendly videos: 

Exhibition supporters

Supported by

The Hintze Family Charitable Foundation

The Hintze Family Charitable Foundation has provided funding to over 200 charities. The Foundation has made significant contributions in the areas of education, culture and art, health, the armed services and natural history, among others. Major donations include sponsoring two major galleries at the Victoria & Albert Museum; providing vital funding to the Old Vic Theatre in London; enabling the restoration of Michelangelo’s frescoes in the Pauline Chapel at the Vatican; supporting the restoration of the Scala Santa, or 'Holy Staircase'; and supporting the refurbishment of a number of gallery spaces in The National Gallery. In recognition, Room 8 of the National Gallery was named 'The Dorothy and Michael Hintze Room'. The Foundation has also assisted The National Gallery in securing Titian's Diana and Actaeon for the nation, supported Tate Britain's acquisition of an important British impressionist work, and supported ambitious redevelopment programmes at the Natural History Museum and the Australian Museum.

The Ruddock Foundation for the Arts
The Ruddock Foundation for the Arts supports museums and performing art with a focus on education and conservation. Its Chair, Sir Paul Ruddock is a trustee of the British Museum and the family were the major supporters of the renovation of the Medieval Europe Gallery and the Sutton Hoo and Early Medieval Europe Gallery at the Museum.

Jack Ryan and Zemen Paulos

The Project Curator for Thomas Becket is supported by the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art.

We would also like to thank members of the Becket Curators’ Circle for their generous support of the exhibition:
•    Claudio Chittaro 
•    Pamela Cross
•    Nicholas and Jane Ferguson
•    Nicholas and Judith Goodison
•    The Sandra Hindman Foundation
•    Steven Larcombe and Sonya Leydecker
•    Richard and Amicia Oldfield
•    Vogelgezang Foundation