Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Early Modern European -- the Quest for Becket's Bones: The Mystery of the Relics of St Thomas Becket of Canterbury

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Early Modern European -- the Quest for Becket's Bones: The Mystery of the Relics of St Thomas Becket of Canterbury

Article excerpt

The Quest for Becket's Bones: The Mystery of the Relics of St. Thomas Becket of Canterbury. By John Butler. (New Haven: Yale University Press. 1995. Pp. xii, 180. $25.00.)

In 1992 two men, searching for the bones of St. Thomas Becket, attempted to break into a tomb in Canterbury Cathedral. The continuing debate over the existence and location of Becket's bones forms the subject matter of Butler's book. He begins with a careful and detailed recounting of the murder and burial of Becket using medieval sources. Butler establishes the credentials of his chroniclers and their proximity to the scene they are describing, a practice he repeats throughout the book. Advancing to 1538, he reconstructs the bones' loss when Henry VIII orders the destruction of English shrines. The question remains whether Henry burned or buried the bones.

The continuing argument over the bones' whereabouts began with the discovery in 1888 of a shallow grave close to Becket's original tomb, a grave in which bones, including a skull, were found. Identified as the skeleton of a man about fifty years old and of great strength and height (whose head could have been wounded with a sword), a description suggesting that the bones were Becket's, the discovery set off a debate that continued until 1952. In 1949 these bones we again disinterred, but eventually an examiner concluded that they could not have been Becket's. Butler leaves the reader with questions about the identity of the bones and about what happened to the archbishop's: in short, he does not attempt to force closure of what remains open. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.