@MarDixon Passionate about culture internationally. Run remixing events, workshops, create solutions, and an international speaker. Over sharer and Mom who loses arguments to a teen. Projects created: @CultureThemes @lovetheatreday @AskaCurator @MuseumSelfieDay @TeensInMuseums @52museums
  • Guest Blog: British Museum Thomas Beckett: Murder and the making of a saint @soupdragron2000 @BritishMuseum

    May 23rd, 2021mardixonCulture

    Huge thank you to Matt White (@soupdragon2000 on Twitter) for attending and sharing this exhibition! I personally can’t wait to get back to review and seeing more exhibitions.

    I was lucky enough to be one of the first to visit a museum in 2021 on the morning of May 17. It was also my first time travelling by tube in over a year and the first time in central London this year so it felt like a BIG day. The tube was quiet. Very quiet. Gone was the smorgasbord of theatre and exhibition posters you usually see and in their place was a drab selection of generic TfL safety information. Still, it was nice not to have your face pressed against someone’s armpit for the journey.

    My destination was the British Museum and after an eerily empty walk through Holborn, I was delighted to see a queue of eager visitors waiting to get in. Though the queue was long, it was fast and well managed and I was through the gates in no time at all.

    I was there to see Thomas Beckett: Murder and the making of a saint and I have to say, walking up those steps to Room 35 for the first time in such a long time stirred up the emotions a bit!

    I didn’t know much (if anything) about Thomas Beckett before going but fortunately, you get sent the overall wall text and exhibition map in an email the day before. For me, this was great, as I was able to spend more time appreciating the objects I was looking at and less time gawking at text on a wall. Nobody wants to read too much text in an exhibition – that’s what books are for! It also seemed to help with visitor flow with fewer people crowding around panels.

    So – quick tldr; version of Beckett. *spoiler alert* – he gets killed. Beckett was this merchant dude from Cheapside in London who somehow manages to become besties with King Henry II. He somehow manages to get himself promoted from pen pusher to Chancellor and Archbishop of Canturbury. A bit Like Michael J Fox in ‘The Secret of my Success’. As quickly as he rises, he is fallen, as he falls out with Henry who thinks he’s taking a bit of a liberty with all the power. He scarpers to Canterbury to get away from Henry, only someone must have dobbed him in as four knight rock up and shank him at the alter. Henry gets the blame for this, natch, but he’s king so he just has to say sorry and suck up to the pope. Meanwhile, Thomas, who has become quite popular, gets lots of visitors to his tomb. Miracles were documented such as the curing of nosebleeds and funny tummies [srsly? I could do that] and he gets made a saint and Henry has to suck up to him too, even though he’s dead.

    That’s my take on it anyway.

    The exhibition itself only deals with the actual Beckett part in the first half and then goes on to show us the legacy of the events through the ages. Beckett certainly had his ups and downs. He got a massive cult following in Norway but Henry VIII really didn’t like him and smashed up his tomb and scratched out all references to him in the literature, turning everything into some kind of messed up Mean Girls Burn Book.

    You’d think the exhibition would be all dark and gloomy given the subject matter but it was actually quite light and airy which is quite refreshing. Nice use of fabric gave a cathedral-like atmosphere without being stuffy.

    The ‘murder bit’ was about halfway through and was tastefully done with AV. The star of the show came just after that where you could see the stained glass windows from Canterbury Cathedral, depicting lots of miracles such as the curing of the bloody nose. No, really – it’s a thing.

    They quite clearly recognise the beauty of the windows too as its image is slapped on basically EVERYTHING in the gift shop.

    Bishop-themed rubber ducks are also available if that’s more your thing. Thank-you BM. You do not disappoint. 

    All in all, it was a most enjoyable exhibition covering a massive timescale and which doesn’t try to cast judgement on whether Beckett was a goodie or a baddie. For me, he came across as a bit of a chancer crony who blagged his way through life and death. Your take may be different. Whatever you take away from the exhibition, it is a thoroughly enjoyable first step back into the museum world so many of us miss so much. I’d thoroughly recommend a visit.
    Thomas Beckett: murder and the making of a saint opened 20 May, Adults from £17, Members and under 16s free.

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