The Lives and Deaths of St Thomas Becket and St Thomas Cantilupe

Monday 27 July - Saturday 2 January 2021

Hereford Cathedral has unveiled its latest exhibition, The Two Thomases, within the Mappa Mundi & Chained Library, to mark the celebrations of both the 700th anniversary of the canonisation of St Thomas of Hereford and the 850th anniversary of the martyrdom of St Thomas of Canterbury.

There is also a virtual version of the exhibition available below for those who are not able to visit The Mappa Mundi & Chained Library Exhibition. To download a word transcript of the exhibition please click here.

Thomas Becket is one of the giants of medieval English history. The story of how, as Archbishop of Canterbury, he defied Henry II, provoking the king’s fateful outburst “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?”, which led to Becket’s violent death with his brains spewed out over the floor of Canterbury Cathedral, is well known.

The other Thomas, Thomas Cantilupe, is less famous but led an equally dramatic life, rising to become Bishop of Hereford, quarrelling with the Archbishop of Canterbury, John Pecham, being disastrously excommunicated by him, trekking fast across Europe to receive absolution from the Pope and dying from fever far from home.

The Two Thomases traces the lives of these two extraordinary men, who became saints, miracle workers and the focus of pilgrimage cults, through books, documents and archives from the cathedral’s historic collections and loans of items rarely on show to the public. Visitors can view eyewitness accounts of Becket’s murder, a precious reliquary which would have contained a morsel of his body or blood, an account roll recording the daily expenditure of Cantilupe’s retinue on his last journey, the papal proclamation of his canonisation in 1320, and his actual skull and thigh bone, once buried in the cathedral.

The registers of Bishop Thomas Cantilupe and his successor Richard Swinfield have been loaned by the Herefordshire Archives and Records Centre (HARC) and the two Cantilupe reliquaries belong to Downside Abbey and Stonyhurst College.

Dr Rosemary Firman, Cathedral Librarian, said: ‘It’s wonderful that Hereford Cathedral Library and Archives are such a rich mine of source material for the medieval period. This exhibition gives us the chance to show off some amazing manuscripts, further enhanced by loans of objects rarely seen in public’.

After temporarily closing in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Mappa Mundi & Chained Library Exhibition reopened to the public on Monday 27 July. New procedures have been implemented to help support with social distancing and it is strongly advised that visitors view these here before visiting. The Mappa Mundi & Chained Library Exhibition is open Monday - Saturday, 10 am - 3 pm and admission charges apply.