For the first time since it was made 800 years ago, an entire stained glass window dedicated to Thomas Becket will leave Canterbury Cathedral to go on display in the British Museum. The window being loaned is one of the surviving famed Miracle Windows which were made in the early 1200s to surround Becket’s now-lost shrine in the Cathedral.
There were 12 Miracle Windows, although only 7 now survive and they tell the stories of miracles attributed to Becket in the three years following his death. The windows are the only known depictions of Becket’s miracle stories in any media.
The windows are also substantial in size – being over six metres high.
The window coming to the British Museum, the fifth in the 12-part series depicts include the healing of eyesight and the replacement of lost genitals, with the latter being the earliest known depiction of castration in medieval art.
However, research carried out due to its removal revealed that some of the panels in the window had been in the wrong order for centuries. They were probably mixed up during a hasty rearrangement in the 1660s and the errors were discovered after close inspection of individual pieces under a microscope.
When the window is shown at the British Museum, it will be rearranged in the correct narrative order, and this will be the first time in over 350 years that visitors will be able to view these panels as they were made to be seen. It will also be the very first time the window can be seen up-close at eye-level.
The exhibition is aiming to open this April, having already been delayed from last October, and will have over 100 objects on display related to the murder of Thomas Becket in 1170, allegedly on the orders of King Henry II.
News of Becket’s gruesome death sent shockwaves across Europe and is considered one of the most scandalous acts of sacrilege in English history. Miracles were quickly attributed to the dead Archbishop, and he was canonised just three years after his death.
Tickets for the exhibition will go on sale soon, and the exhibition is expected to run from 22nd April to 22nd August 2021.