Martyrdom of Thomas à Beckett
Chasse from Palencia (Spain)
Made in Limoges
Copper champlevé enameled and gilded
Musée National de l'Age Médiévale, Paris
Dated by the museum as ca. 1190-1200
the lower scene two of Henry II's knights step forward to assassinate
St. Thomas à Beckett while he is saying Mass in Canterbury
the scene above, a bishop (with mitre and crozier)
directs two figures who are bearing the saint's body on a long
One would think that this is a scene of the interment of the saint, and
that is what it must
if the dating is correct.
if it were possible to date the chasse as late as 1220 another more
attractive possibility would open up: that the scene is the translation
of the saint's relics, an event that was celebrated with great pomp in
1220, when the relics were moved to a more sumptuous setting in the
cathedral under the direction of Archbishop Stephen Langton.
This interpretation would explain why there
is a bishop in the scene. The
Golden Legend stresses repeatedly that the other English bishops
stood with the Henry II in his dispute with Beckett, so it would be
that one of them figure so prominently in an interment scene.
Furthermore, the translation itself was
considered a major event in
English history. It had its own section in Caxton's version of
the Legend, and its date was celebrated as the saint's primary feast.
Finally, it would make sense that a
reliquary such as this chasse would feature the translation of the
More of St. Thomas à Beckett
Photographed at the site by Richard Stracke