This precious silver box was created to contain a relic of the martyred English saint Thomas Becket. Saint Thomas was the archbishop of Canterbury from 1162 to 1170, and he is perhaps best known for his struggles with King Henry II of England over the separation between the rights of the monarch and the rights of the church. Thomas was killed by four knights of Henry's court in Canterbury Cathedral at twilight on December 29, 1170.
The long sides of the reliquary display a brief narrative of the saint's martyrdom. On one side, the lower rectangular panel shows the four knights assaulting Thomas, while on the triangular lid above, an angel makes a sign of blessing over the event. On the other side, the lower panel shows Thomas's body lying in state, while above, an angel cradles a small child, the symbol of the saint's soul as it rises to heaven. This reliquary is dated to the years immediately following Thomas's canonization in 1173, making it one of the earliest objects commemorating his sainthood.
This artwork is meant to be viewed from right to left. Scroll left to view more.
Use your arrow keys to navigate the tabs below, and your tab key to choose an item
Title:Reliquary Casket with Scenes from the Martyrdom of Saint Thomas Becket
Medium:Gilded silver with niello and a glass cabochon set over a tinted foil
Dimensions:2 3/16 x 2 3/4 x 1 7/8 in. (5.5 x 7 x 4.7 cm) Other (interior cavity overall): 1 5/16 × 2 9/16 × 1 7/16 in. (3.4 × 6.5 × 3.7 cm)
Credit Line:Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917
Inscription: Obverse: S[ANCTUS] . TOMAS . OCCI / DIT . (Saint Thomas is killed)
Reverse: I[N]T9 [INTUS] / SANGVIS . E[ST] . S[ANCTI] . TOM[AE] (The blood of Saint Thomas is inside)
Albert Germeau, Limoges (by 1865–d. 1867); his posthumous sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris (May 4–7, 1868, no. 41; sold to his descendants); Louis Germeau, Paris (1898?–until d. 1904); his posthumous sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris (February 13–25, 1905, no. 931); [ S. J. Phillips Ltd., London (sold 1905)]; J. Pierpont Morgan (American), London and New York (1905–d. 1913); Estate of J. Pierpont Morgan(1913–1917)
Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art. "The Pierpont Morgan Treasures. Loan exhibition in honor of the Junius Spencer Morgan Memorial," November 10, 1960–December 18, 1960.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Year 1200: A Centennial Exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art," February 12–May 10, 1970.
Hayward Gallery. "English Romanesque Art 1066—1200," April 5–July 8, 1984.
Braunschweig, Germany. Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum. "Heinrich der Löwe und seine Zeit : Herrschaft und Repräsentation der Welfen 1125–1235," August 6, 1995–November 12, 1995.
London. British Museum. "Treasures of Heaven: Saints, Relics, and Devotion in Medieval Europe," June 23, 2011–October 9, 2011.
Los Angeles. J. Paul Getty Museum. "Canterbury Glass and the St. Albans Psalter: Treasures from Church and Cloister," September 30, 2013–February 2, 2014.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Winchester Bible: A Masterpiece of Medieval Art in Context," December 8, 2014–March 8, 2015.
Darcel, Alfred. "Musée Rétrospectif: Le Moyen Age et la Renaissance – Les Nielles. Les Êmaux." Gazette des Beaux-Arts 19, no. 2 (December 1865). pp. 508–10.
Union Centrale des Beaux-Arts appliqués à l'Industrie. Exposition de 1865 – Palais de l'Industrie. Musée Rétrospectif. Paris: Julien Lemer, 1867. no. 590, p. 58.
Catalogue des objets d'art et de haute curiosité composant la Précieuse Collection de feu M. Germeau. Paris: Hôtel Drouot, May 4–7, 1868. no. 41, pp. 20–21, ill. across from title page.
"Fine-Art Gossip." Athenæum 4034 (February 18, 1905). p. 218.
Catalogue des objets de curiosité...Dépendant de la Succession de M. Louis Germeau. Paris: Hôtel Drouot, February 13–25, 1905. no. 931, p. 64, ill. across from p. 64.
Nicolle, Marcel. "Chronique des Ventes: à Paris – Vente de la Collection Louis Germeau." Le Bulletin de l'Art Ancien et Moderne 249 (February 25, 1905). p. 59.
Williamson, George Charles. Catalogue of the Collections of Jewels and Precious Works of Art: The Property of J. Pierpont Morgan. Deluxe ed. London: Chiswick Press, 1910. no. 89, p. 134, pl. LXIX.
Breck, Joseph. "A Reliquary of Saint Thomas Becket Made for John of Salisbury." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, o.s., 13, no. 10 (October 1918). pp. 220–24.
Breck, Joseph, and Meyric R. Rogers. The Pierpont Morgan Wing: A Handbook. 2nd ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1929. p. 103.
Borenius, Tancred. "Addenda to the Iconography of St. Thomas of Canterbury." Archaeologia 81 (1931). pp. 27–28, pl. XXII, fig. 1–2.
Borenius, Tancred. St. Thomas Becket in Art. London: Methuen & Co., 1932. pp. 78–80, pl. XXIX, fig. 1–2.
Swarzenski, Hanns. The Berthold Missal, the Pierpont Morgan Library ms 710 and the Scriptorium of Weingarten Abbey. New York: Morgan Library & Museum, 1943. pp. 50–51, fig. 71.
Swarzenski, Hanns. Monuments of Romanesque Art: the Art of Church Treasures in North-Western Europe. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1954. p. 80, fig. 490, pl. 209.
Oman, Charles C. English Church Plate, 597–1830. New York, London: Oxford University Press, 1957. p. 99, pl. 47.
Cunningham, C. C., ed. The Pierpont Morgan Treasures: Loan Exhibition in Honor of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Junius Spencer Morgan Memorial. Hartford: Wadsworth Atheneum, 1960. no. 11, p. 9.
Griffith, Beatrice Fox. Treasure Under Glass. Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1963. p. 29, pl. XXII, ill. p. 24.
Hoving, Thomas. "A Newly Discovered Reliquary of St. Thomas Becket." Gesta 4 (Spring 1965). pp. 28–30, fig. 1.
Swarzenski, Hanns. Monuments of Romanesque Art: the Art of Church Treasures in North-Western Europe. 2nd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1967. p. 80, fig. 490, pl. 209.
Hoffmann, Konrad, ed. The Year 1200: A Centennial Exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Vol. 1. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1970. no. 85, pp. 78–79.
Sauerländer, Willibald. "Review of 'The Year 1200,' a Centennial exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. February 12-May 10, 1970." The Art Bulletin 53, no. 4 (December 1971). p. 515.
Howard, Kathleen, ed. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Guide. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1983. no. 27, pp. 348–49.
Zarnecki, George, Janet Holt, and Tristram Holland, ed. English Romanesque Art, 1066-1200. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1984. no. 302, p. 282.
Barlow, Frank. Thomas Becket. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986. fig. 37.
Stratford, Neil. "Niello in England in the Twelfth century." In Art and Patronage in English Romanesque, edited by Sarah Macready, and Frederick Hugh Thompson. Occasional Paper, n.s., Vol. 8. London: Society of Antiquaries of London, 1986. p. 43, pl. XVIIb. XVIIIa.
Swarzenski, Hanns, and Nancy Netzer. Enamels & Glass: Catalogue of Medieval Objects. Catalogue of Medieval Objects in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 1986. p. 88.
Husband, Timothy B., and Charles T. Little. Europe in the Middle Ages. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1987. no. 70, p. 78.
Wixom, William D. "In quinto scrinio de Cupro, A Copper Reliquary Chest Attributed to Canterbury: Style, Iconography, and Patronage." In The Cloisters: Studies in Honor of the Fiftieth Anniversary, edited by Elizabeth C. Parker. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1992. p. 202, fig. 6.
Howard, Kathleen, ed. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Guide. 2nd ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1994. no. 28, pp. 382–83.
Luckhardt, Jochen, and Franz Niehoff, ed. Heinrich der Löwe und seine Zeit: Herrschaft und Repräsentation der Welfen 1125-1235; Katalog der Ausstellung Braunschweig. Vol. 1. Munich: Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum, 1995. pp. 310–311, ill. p. 311.
Guàrdia, Milagros. "Sant Tomàs Becket i el programa iconogràfic de les pintures murals de Santa Maria de Terrassa." Locus Amœnus 4 (1998-1999). pp. 44–45, fig. 6.
Gameson, Richard. "The Early Imagery of Thomas Becket." In Pilgrimage: The English Experience from Becket to Bunyan, edited by Colin Morris, and Peter Roberts. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. pp. 52–53, 59, 63, 78, fig. 5–6.
Little, Charles T. "The Road to Glory: New Early Images of Thomas Becket's Life." In Reading Medieval Images: the Art Historian and the Object, edited by Elizabeth Sears, and Thelma K. Thomas. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2002. p. 205.
Bagnoli, Martina, Holger A. Klein, C. Griffith Mann, and James Robinson, ed. Treasures of Heaven: Saints, Relics, and Devotion in Medieval Europe. Cleveland, Baltimore, and London: Cleveland Museum of Art, 2010. no. 97, p. 186.
Bynum, Caroline Walker. Christian Materiality: An Essay on Religion in Late Medieval Europe. New York: Zone Books, 2011. pp. 70–72, 82, fig. 15.
Josipovici, Gabriel. "Symbols of Blood." Times Literary Supplement 5676 (January 3, 2012). p. 4, ill. on cover.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Guide. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2012. p. 189.
Barnet, Peter, Michael Brandt, and Gerhard Lutz, ed. Medieval Treasures from Hildesheim. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2013. p. 88.
Bollermann, Karen, and Cary J. Nederman. "A Special Collection: John of Salisbury's Relics of St. Thomas Becket and Other Holy Martyrs." Mediaevistik 26 (2014). p. 173.
Koopmans, Rachel M. "Between the Limousin and the Holy Land: Prisoners, Performance, and the Portal of San Leonardo at Siponto." Gesta 54, no. 1 (Spring 2015). p. 57, fig. 20.
Koopmans, Rachel M. "Visions, Reliquaries, and the Image of 'Becket’s Shrine' in the Miracle Windows of Canterbury Cathedral." Gesta 54, no. 1 (Spring 2015). p. 57, fig. 20.
Stein, Wendy A. How to Read Medieval Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2016. no. 21, pp. 16, 83–85.
The Met Collection API is where all makers, creators, researchers, and dreamers can connect to the most up-to-date data and public domain images for The Met collection. Open Access data and public domain images are available for unrestricted commercial and noncommercial use without permission or fee.
We continue to research and examine historical and cultural context for objects in The Met collection. If you have comments or questions about this object record, please complete and submit this form. The Museum looks forward to receiving your comments.
The Museum's collection of medieval and Byzantine art is among the most comprehensive in the world, encompassing the art of the Mediterranean and Europe from the fall of Rome to the beginning of the Renaissance.