Thomas Becket is undoubtedly one of the best known and most written-about figures in the Middle Ages. Yet many of the political, religious and cultural repercussions of his murder, and subsequent canonisation, on the world he left behind remain to be explored in detail. Following Paul Webster's introductory exploration of existing historiography of the cult of St Thomas Becket, the main focus of this volume lies in the study of the emergence and development of the Becket phenomenon within the world from which it had been created. Anne J. Duggan's chapter highlights the way in which the creation and expansion of the cult of St Thomas are often relegated to the relative obscurity of liturgical or cultural history. In redressing the balance, Duggan examines the transformation of the murdered archbishop's status from that of victim to that of the most widely-revered medieval saint. Her article investigates the cult in the Plantagenet world and goes on to set it within the wider medieval context, considering evidence ranging from the period that followed the martyrdom down to the Reformation and beyond. In providing such broad focus, this contribution examines trends to which the other papers return in their discussion of the cult and of perceptions of St Thomas in the century following his martyrdom. Notably, these include the liturgical Becket and the efforts by the Plantagenet dynasty to build links with the religious phenomenon which Henry II had inadvertently created.
The volume then turns to aspects of the development of the cult, the reaction of religious communities to the popularity of the martyr and the impact of the conflict preceding Thomas Becket's death on the posthumous absorption of his cult into the life of monastic and hospital foundations in the Plantagenet lands. Chapters by Marie-Pierre Gelin and Elma Brenner focus on ways in which this could take place, examining different categories of religious house and the place which St Thomas occupied within them. Gelin focuses on the early development of the cult at its ‘host’ community at Canterbury, in terms of the integration of St Thomas into the iconography of the cathedral.