And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!
- And did those feet, William Blake

mandag 3. februar 2014

Thomas Gemma Cantuarie

Yesterday evening I attended a wonderful concert in Trondheim cathedral by the Hilliard Ensemble. This was a part of their farewell tour, and I was very happy to have this last opportunity to hear them perform. The selection of songs spanned from the 13th century up to our times, and two of the songs were anonymous 13th century pieces in honour of Saint Thomas Becket. I found this a nice serendipity since I had earlier that day finished reading Frank Barlow's biography of the martyred archbishop. In this blogpost, I present to you the first of these songs, Thomas Gemma Cantuarie.

The death of Thomas Becket and its circumstances are well known, and his martyrdom is perhaps one of the most iconic to have come out of the Middle Ages, certainly one of the most well-remembered. His was a fascinating life, but the development of his posthumous life, the cult of his sainthood, is no less fascinating and impressive. Few other medieval cults were as stable in their popularity as Becket's, few were as far-reaching, and few resulted in such an immense body of literature, both verse and prose, Latin and sundry vernaculars, including Icelandic.

The cult began among the poor and sick of Canterbury. The monks themselves were cautious not to attract too much attention for fear of repercussions from Thomas' four murderers, and so it was that the rise of Becket's cult came from outside Canterbury Cathedral, from among those sick who were desperate for cures, and from among his old clerks and allies in France, like John of Salisbury, Herbert of Bosham and high-ranking French clergy.

Moreover, the cult of Thomas Becket was embraced by the English monarchy. Henry II humbled himself in 1174, a year after Thomas' sainthood had been confirmed by Pope Alexander III, and this was probably done in part to gain Thomas' aid against his rebellious kinsfolk and neighbours. Almost a century later, Edward I and his family veered off from his father's cultivation of Edward the Confessor in favour of Becket, and although the Confessor remained important to the king, Becket was the larger figure throughout the realm.

The longevity of Thomas' cult is also attested by Chaucer's popular tales and the illuminations used in this blogpost, the first of which dates from the 15th century.

Martyrdom of Thomas Becket
MS. Harley 2982, book of hours, Sarum Use, Netherlands, 2nd quarter of 15th century
Courtesy of British Library

The martyrdom of Thomas Becket
MS. Yates Thompson 13, The Taymouth Hours, Use of Sarum, England, 2nd quarter of 14th century
Courtesy of British Library

Ingen kommentarer:

Legg inn en kommentar