Making the martyr: the liturgical persona of Saint Thomas Becket in visual imagery
By Natalie Hansen
Master s Thesis, University of Illinois at Urbana‐Champaign, 2011
Abstract: Saint Thomas Becket was murdered in Canterbury Cathedral in December of 1170. In life, many of his actions did not fit tightly conceived notions of sainthood, and several members of the English nobility and clergy probably would rather have forgotten him after his death. To bridge the gap between what people knew of Becket and a their conceptions of what a saintly martyr should be, the promoters of Becket’s cult used biographies, visual imagery, and above all, the liturgy. This thesis explores the ways in which the liturgy shapes the public persona of Saint Thomas Becket, and the ways in which the stained glass narratives depicting his life at Sens and Chartres Cathedrals make use of this image and work in tandem with the liturgy to present an image of Becket as an ideal Christian martyr.
However, rather than adopting the ideas present in the liturgy wholesale, the stained glass cycles often choose one or two aspects of Becket’s constructed persona on which to focus. This thesis also explores this phenomenon, and describes the social and political context of each work as an explanation of why this may have happened.