The martyrdom of St. Thomas Becket has a been a popular subject for artists from the middle ages to the 20th century, but one detail of the murder stands out in a few depictions. These show the top of the saints skull being shorn off by the first blow, like so:
Master Francke, 1424.
Carrow Psalter, 1250.
Medieval art was partly representational and partly narrative, meaning the depiction of people and events was in a unique zone between literal and symbolic. Lopping off the top of a bishop’s head, complete with mitre and tonsure, was a symbolic act of defiance against his authority and holiness. The horror of the crime is being emphasized: this was God’s anointed, and in striking at him they struck at God Himself.
But … was there more to this than symbolism?
Indeed there was, because a man named Edward Grim wrote this influential…
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