Event Title

Creating a Cult: How the Canterbury Monks Capitalized on the Myth of Thomas Becket in Popular Culture, Visual and Textual Imagery, and Branding

Poster Number

091

Session Title

Books, Film, and Media

Document Type

Poster Presentation

Faculty Mentor

Kyle Sweeney, Ph.D.

College

College of Visual and Performing Arts

Department

Department of Fine Arts

Description

The brutal murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket in his own cathedral sent tremors throughout medieval Europe, prompting a subsequent interest in Canterbury Cathedral. Immediately following Becket’s death, people began to proclaim miracles in his name. Thus, the cult of Becket originated. Over the next four centuries, Canterbury would be a primary pilgrimage site, drawing pious pilgrims and curious spectators alike. This rapid influx of pilgrims can be linked to both the myth of Thomas Becket in popular culture and the Canterbury monks’ superiority in cultivating a cult culture. This research addresses three key points. One is the importance of miracle accounts in creating a populist cult. Laypeople were the first to convey miraculous accounts. In this way, they appropriated the miracle experience and attached themselves to the cult of Becket. The second key point is the superior marketing techniques the monks at Canterbury employed in attracting the masses. This includes capitalizing on the pilgrimage experience, which can be seen in an array of souvenirs produced near Canterbury (e.g., pilgrimage badges). The third key point is creating a sensorial environment that must be experienced. By engaging the pilgrim’s senses at every station of the cathedral, the monks strategically heightened the feeling of awe one feels at experiencing something spectacular. Much of this sensorial environment is created through the cathedral’s visual culture. This essay will provide new readings of the use of visual and textual culture in the manipulation of the pilgrim’s experience – an issue relevant to both the medieval and modern pilgrimage experience.

Previously Presented/Performed?

College Art Association (CAA) Annual Conference, Chicago, Illinois, February 2020; Sixth Annual Showcase of Undergraduate Research and Creative Endeavors (SOURCE), Winthrop University, April 2020

Awards Won

Winner, Trimmer Travel Awards, Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR), December 2019, and Art History PALS Award, Winthrop University Department of Fine Arts, December 2019

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Apr 24th, 12:00 AM

Creating a Cult: How the Canterbury Monks Capitalized on the Myth of Thomas Becket in Popular Culture, Visual and Textual Imagery, and Branding

The brutal murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket in his own cathedral sent tremors throughout medieval Europe, prompting a subsequent interest in Canterbury Cathedral. Immediately following Becket’s death, people began to proclaim miracles in his name. Thus, the cult of Becket originated. Over the next four centuries, Canterbury would be a primary pilgrimage site, drawing pious pilgrims and curious spectators alike. This rapid influx of pilgrims can be linked to both the myth of Thomas Becket in popular culture and the Canterbury monks’ superiority in cultivating a cult culture. This research addresses three key points. One is the importance of miracle accounts in creating a populist cult. Laypeople were the first to convey miraculous accounts. In this way, they appropriated the miracle experience and attached themselves to the cult of Becket. The second key point is the superior marketing techniques the monks at Canterbury employed in attracting the masses. This includes capitalizing on the pilgrimage experience, which can be seen in an array of souvenirs produced near Canterbury (e.g., pilgrimage badges). The third key point is creating a sensorial environment that must be experienced. By engaging the pilgrim’s senses at every station of the cathedral, the monks strategically heightened the feeling of awe one feels at experiencing something spectacular. Much of this sensorial environment is created through the cathedral’s visual culture. This essay will provide new readings of the use of visual and textual culture in the manipulation of the pilgrim’s experience – an issue relevant to both the medieval and modern pilgrimage experience.