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Medieval Wall Painting
in the
English Parish Church

Brookland [St Augustine], Kent (†Canterbury)
mid-late C.13 (repainted late C.14/early C.15)

The Murder of Thomas Becket

Murder of Thos. Becket, Brookland St Augustine's church, Kent

Apart from a small patch of pigment over the south door this is the only painting remaining at Brookland. It shows the murder in 1171 of Thomas Becket in his cathedral at Canterbury by four knights. Only three of the knights, and three of their swords, are shown here – the fourth has probably gone with vanished plaster at the left-hand edge of the painting.

Thomas himself struck down in the act of kneeling, hands joined in prayer, before the altar, is about to fall under the sword (which can be seen here slanting across his tonsured forehead) of the first knight. He is vested for Mass, and there is a faintly discernible chalice on the altar. The tonsured figure at the extreme right, holding a processional cross, is his chaplain Edward Grim.

Incidentally, there is absolutely no proof that Henry 11 of England actually made the famous “Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?” remark said to have initiated the entire sorry saga. Stick with Grim's account, generally taken to be an accurate one (link below).

I have always found the church open, despite its remoteness (stay on the road and keep going – you will not fall into the English channel, despite appearances), and there is an excellent guidebook by Anne Roper available inside.

*The fragment of illusionistic architecture above Grim’s head belongs to the C.14/15 restoration. E Clive Rouse and Ann Ballantyne, who carried that out, decided to retain it.

¹ The best source for Edward Grim’s account is the Internet Medieval Sourcebook. The four knights were Reginald Fitzurse, Hugh de Morville, William de Tracy and Richard le Breton. Fitzurse is said to have struck first, but his punning emblem of a bear is not clear enough in the Brookland example to identify him with certainty.