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Last Updated: Friday, 13 June, 2003, 18:58 GMT 19:58 UK
Casket celebrates martyr's death
Dean of Canterbury Cathedral Robert Willis with a casket which held relics of Thomas Becket
The casket, worth 4m, is one of 50 made in the 12th century in France
A casket celebrating Kent's best known religious martyr has been brought to Canterbury for the first time.

The 12th-century enamel box depicts the death of archbishop Thomas Becket, who was killed on the steps of Canterbury Cathedral in 1170.

The murder of the "turbulent priest" was carried out by four knights, supposedly on the orders of King Henry II.

The casket, worth more than 4m, is one of 50 made in Limoges after the killing.

It is a link all the way back to the time of Becket himself
Robert Willis, dean of Canterbury

It was bought by the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1996 and is on loan to celebrate the centenary of the National Art Collection Fund, which helped purchase the casket.

Robert Willis, dean of Canterbury Cathedral, said: "It is a link all the way back to the time of Becket himself.

"We are sitting here in the place where he was martyred and it gives a great sense of excitement to the cathedral and its community."

King Henry II had hoped by making Becket Archbishop of Canterbury to have an ally in his view that the church was subordinate to the monarchy.

Robe soaked in blood

But Becket opposed his views and lost the king's favour.

News of Becket's murder spread across Europe, inspiring pilgrims to visit the scene of his death and admire relics of his body.

Marian Campbell, Victoria and Albert Museum curator, said: "Within days of his death, bits of his robe soaked in blood were being collected by the faithful.

"They rapidly achieved great fame and everyone wanted to have a relic but they were extremely rare and precious - so they were kept in valuable caskets."

Visitors can see the casket in the crypt for the next two weeks.

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