A ‘little book’ belonging to Thomas Becket, the archbishop hacked to death in Canterbury Cathedral 850 years ago, has possibly been found.
When Beckett was in exile and was in need of money he sent a close confidant, Herbert of Bosham, to gather funds, and a certain little book, and take it to Calais.
“The implication is that it was a book that was very important to Becket, and that Herbert would know what it was,” leading expert Prof. Anne Duggan says.
“It’s quite interesting that he doesn’t tell us – so there is a mystery there. It wasn’t a law book, it wasn’t a gospel, it was a little book – a codicella.”
Dr Christopher de Hamel, a Cambridge college librarian at the time, was having lunch with medieval historian, Dr Eyal Poleg in 2014 and discussing saints’ relics, including the question of why saints’ clothing is considered more holy than the manuscripts.
Poleg said de Hamel knew of one saint’s book that was considered holy which was held in Canterbury cathedral: “Item, a binding with the psalter of St Thomas, bound in silver gilt, decorated with jewels…”
Upon hearing those words de Hamel remembered he had read those words before and had “one of those sudden heart-stopping shivers of recognition that make our lives as historians worthwhile”, and he was sure the inventory he had read was referring to the same book.
The pari rushed to the library where De Hamel brought out a 1,000-year-old book of psalms and showed Poleg a note added to one of the last pages 500 years ago.
“This psalter, in boards of silver-gilt and decorated with jewels,” it began, “was once that of N, archbishop of Canterbury [and] eventually came into the hand of Thomas Becket, late archbishop of Canterbury, as is recorded in the old inscription.”
De Hamel and Poleg were reportedly “trembling with excitement” as they held the book of psalms in their hands.
De Hamel writes in a short book published earlier this year, The Book in the Cathedral: The Last Relic of Thomas Becket.