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Canterbury Cathedral windows depicting the miracles of Thomas Becket are being reassembled

A glass act again after 350 years… Canterbury Cathedral windows depicting the miracles of Thomas Becket are being reassembled after experts realised they had been in the wrong order for centuries

  • Experts discovered stained glass windows have been in the wrong order
  • The windows stood next to Becket’s shrine, which was destroyed in 16th century
  • Depictions of Becket in the glass were later vandalised and some were smashed
  • They are believed to have then been ‘bunged together’ in the wrong order  

For hundreds of years pilgrims have travelled to gaze in awe at the magnificent stained-glass windows in Canterbury Cathedral that depict the miracles of Thomas Becket.

Unfortunately, it turns out that the windows – made soon after his murder in 1170 – have been in the wrong order for centuries.

Experts discovered the blunder while preparing for a British Museum exhibition on Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury who was butchered by knights allied to his foe King Henry II.

Experts discovered the blunder while preparing for a British Museum exhibition on Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury who was butchered by knights allied to his foe King Henry II. Pictured, the miracle window

The windows stood next to Becket’s shrine, which was destroyed in the 16th century on the orders of Henry VIII.

Depictions of Becket in the glass were later vandalised and some of the windows smashed.

Depictions of Becket (pictured) in the glass were later vandalised

Depictions of Becket (pictured) in the glass were later vandalised

Experts analysing the glass under a microscope now believe the panels and scenes within the stained glass window were ‘bunged together’ in the wrong order when they were restored in the 1660s.

The pieces being reassembled in the correct order involve a description of a man known as Ralph the Leper being cured below an image of another, Eilward of Westoning, being castrated and blinded as punishment for theft. When Eilward drank Becket’s blood after his death he is said to have regained his sight and organs.

Experts could find no evidence of leprosy in that panel, but when they discovered sores painted on a man in the glass of another, Leonie Seliger, director of stained-glass conservation at the cathedral, said she scared colleagues by shouting: ‘Yes! We have leprosy!’

Panels in the other six windows are also thought to be mixed up.

The 6m-high window will be shown correctly assembled at the British Museum, where it is being loaned, for the first time at eye level and close-up. 

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