THE CULT OF BECKET
Soon with emerged the after curative at Becket’s Canterbury power martyrdom, and of the claims archbishop a cult of miracles associated were Europe reported flocked at to his the tomb. city for Pilgrims Becket’s from intercession all over and healing. It became the most-visited pilgrimage site in the country. Two monks of the cathedral, Benedict of Peterborough and William of Canterbury, were drafted in to chronicle the miracles – 703 of them over ten years – which included healing through prayer, drinking the “water of St Thomas” (his blood mixed with holy water), or simply visiting his tomb. The maladies and disabilities cured ranged from leprosy (defined as any skin disease) and dropsy to blindness, paralysis and demonic possession. Yet, in a world without medicine, most made the journey in the hope of assuaging more common problems. The first recorded miraculous cure was on 4 January 1171. A blind woman named Britheva regained her sight after a neighbour touched her eyes with a rag soaked in Becket’s blood. Another early miracle involved a local country thief who, having been blinded and castrated, was similarly restored through the merits of St Thomas. Epilepsy-sufferer Petronella of Polesworth was cured after bathing her feet in the saint’s water, while Ethelreda of Canterbury, ailed with a malarial disease known as quartan fever, fully recovered after drinking the mixture. Each pilgrim then left with a token of their visit – a metal badge or vial filled with his water, in return for a donation.
Medieval pilgrims rushed to pray at Becket’s shrine ( below), where they could also buy badges bearing his likeness ( left)