Saint of the Day – 29 December – St Thomas à Becket/Thomas of Canterbury/Thomas Becket/Thomas of London (c1119-1170) ArchBishop of Canterbury/Martyr – Patron of the Clergy and the Secular Clergy, Exeter College, Oxford, England, Portsmouth, England
VIDEO – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A9K4xyS0UwI(Apostleship of Prayer)
Thomas was a tall, handsome, intelligent, young legal clerk. He had a magnetic personality and made friends easily. His remarkable memory and business ability attracted the attention of the archbishop. The archbishop brought him to Canterbury. Noticing that Thomas was an excellent speaker and could solve complicated problems, he felt Thomas would be a good match for the King of England, Henry II. At the archbishop’s recommendation, Thomas was made chancellor of England, a post he held for eight years.
Illumination from an English Book of Hours presenting a spirited account of the murder of Becket, c. 1390
Thomas loved his life. He spent money on clothes, entertainment, hunting and good times. A strong friendship developed between him and the king. Unfortunately Henry II wanted complete control of his kingdom, including the Church. He wanted to take some powers away from the Church and he needed an archbishop to support him. Henry believed Thomas could do this. Thomas objected to the plan but Henry had his way. Thomas became archbishop of Canterbury.
Troubles began. Henry insisted upon usurping Church rights. At one time, supposing some conciliatory action possible, Thomas came close to compromise.
Faced with the responsibility of leading the people of God, Thomas changed his manner of living. He resigned as chancellor, sold his mansion and went to live in a monastery. He sold his rich clothes and furnishings and gave the money to the poor. His personality was the same but more noticeable were his generosity and determination to protect the Church. Thomas opposed Henry’s taxation of the Church. He refused to allow Henry to make Church appointments that suited him and blocked his other attempts to control the Church.
He momentarily approved the Constitutions of Clarendon, which would have denied the clergy the right of trial by a Church court and prevented them from making direct appeal to Rome. But Thomas rejected the Constitutions, fled to France for safety and remained in exile for seven years. When he returned to England, he suspected it would mean certain death. Because Thomas refused to remit censures he had placed upon bishops favoured by the king, Henry cried out in a rage, “Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest!” Four knights, taking his words as his wish, rode to the monastery where Thomas lived. They did not succeed in making Thomas change what he believed was his obedience to the Pope. When Thomas went into the cathedral to pray, the monks begged him to lock the doors. Thomas insisted that they remain unbolted. The knights entered the cathedral and murdered Thomas near the high altar by the Bishop’s chair. Thomas’s last words were, “I accept death for the name of Jesus and for the Church.”
People called Thomas a saint and Henry II did public penance to be absolved. Miracles were reported to occur at Thomas’s tomb and many pilgrimages were made there. Thomas was the most famous martyr of the Middle Ages.
Thomas Becket remains a hero-saint down to our own times.
XJF359022 St. Thomas Becket (engraving) by English School, (18th century); Private Collection; (add. info.: Thomas a Becket (1118-70) Archbishop of Canterbury; murdered in Canterbury Cathedral on the orders of King Henry II of England); English, out of copyright