A virtual time machine trip to an important English Catholic site.
There has been no shortage of virtual tours of Catholic sites to emerge during the world pandemic, allowing pilgrims and faithful to visit basilicas and shrines in what limited capacity they can while travel is so difficult. The tours have been largely focused on portraying the beauty of sites that could otherwise be visited, but now the Canterbury Cathedral has made a virtual recreation of the famed Shrine of St. Thomas Becket,, which one would need a time machine to witness in its original medieval form.
Martyred 850 years-ago this year, St. Thomas Becket was an important Catholic figure in England at a time when the country was working out matters of sovereignty between Church and state. His life as a clergyman was marked by disputes over authority with the English Crown, which eventually led to King Henry II’s hinting to his soldiers that he wouldn’t mind being “rid of” the Archbishop of Canterbury, whom they murdered in his own cathedral in 1170.
St. Thomas Becket’s death was mourned by Catholics across England, who were inspired to make pilgrimages to Canterbury Cathedral, where he was interred, to venerate his remains. Over the following 50 years, the devotion grew to the point where a shrine was created within the cathedral for Becket’s remains, which the BBC notes reportedly drew over 100,000 faithful each year
Despite ( or more likely because of) its popularity, The History Blog explains, both the shrine and the remains of St. Thomas Becket were destroyed on the orders of King Henry VIII, during the Dissolution of Monasteries in 1538. Since then the only glimpses of Becket’s shrine have been gleamed through texts of first-hand accounts and fragments recovered from the ruined shrine. That is, until the Canterbury Cathedral commissioned a virtual recreation of the shrine’s grounds.
Released on the 800th anniversary of the translation of Becket’s remains to the shrine, Canterbury Cathedral’s virtual reconstruction gives visitors a view of four sites of the medieval facility: Trinity Chapel, The Corona Chapel, The Martyrdom Chapel, and the Tomb of St. Thomas Becket. The videos offer previously unavailable views of an important Catholic site, but they have added value in that they include examples of how the faithful interacted with the shrine, and each of them is accompanied by an extensive explanation to add some educational reference.
It took us a moment to realize that this video, designed to give a view of the main chapel on a sunny morning in 1408, is not a camera feed, but a brilliant high=definition digital rendering. The way the light reflects off the marble floors and pillars is superb, and the movements of the pilgrims looks natural. The Becket Story website explains:
Various pilgrim activities are taking place in the movie. A monk stands by the shrine and invites pilgrims to lay their offerings on the altar, including a merchant couple who present their child and give a candle in thanks for his deliverance from sickness, and a sea captain who gives a ring after surviving a storm. To the left of the screen, lower-status pilgrims have the miracle-stories in the windows explained to them by a clerk.
The Tomb of St. Thomas Becket
Here we have a view of the 15th-century Tomb of St. Thomas Becket. In this example, the lighting (or lack thereof) makes it a little easier to identify as an artistic depiction. Still, the room is beautifully reconstructed and the various people lingering about give more insight into the workings of this medieval shrine, The Becket Story explains:
A number of particularly ill or disabled pilgrims sit in long vigils around or at the empty tomb, while a clerk looks on to protect the valuables and aid those in need. To the left, a group of lower-class carers have formed a support group to discuss issues in caring for their sick relatives.
There are two more sites accompanied by extensive educational writings at The Becket Story: The Life, Death, and Influence of St. Thomas Becket, so click here to explore these excellent reconstructions.