Martyrs on the Move: The Spread of the Cults of Thomas of Canterbury and Peter of Verona
Prudlo, Donald S. (Jacksonville State University)
Peregrinations: Journal of Medieval Art and Architecture, Volume 3:2 (2011)
In a recent survey of historians, Thomas Becket (1118-1170) was nominated as one of the ten worst Britons in history, and took the title for the twelfth century. Peter of Verona (1203- 1252) for his part bears the title “Prince of the Holy Inquisition,” a dubious honor in contemporary society. That these two lay claim to sanctity perplexes the modern world, and even evokes outright hostility. For centuries both Peter and Thomas have been figures characterized by contradiction. They were often reduced to simplistic caricatures of un-reflexive and monomaniacal churchmen on one hand or of flat cut-outs of saintly paragons on the other. Such was not the case in the medieval world. Though both had their share of adversaries from the very beginning, they were foci of some of the first popular, universal cults of the period.
Common people, who regularly sought the suffrages of holy men and women, flocked to both Thomas and Peter. Far from being resented and marginalized, both of their cults – especially Thomas‟s – became central to European Christian consciousness. As much loved as Henry II (r. 1154-1189) is today by some scholars, it is very likely that his contemporaries might have voted him to be the “worst Briton” of the twelfth century.3 As odd as the Inquisition sounds to modern ears, it was not so to the medievals.4 The popular reaction to the murders of Peter and Thomas was stunning, and the velocity of the canonizations was swift.