Monday, 29 December 2008

St Thomas Becket

Born in London of a family of Norman origin in 1118, he studied at Merton Abbey south of London, and at Paris, before studying law at Bologna and working under Theobald, Archbishop of Canterbury. After his ordination he became Archdeacon of Canterbury and after the accession of King Henry II in 1154, Chancellor of England. He seemed set for a brilliant career as a emissary for the king until after his election as Archbishop of Canterbury in 1162 when he adopted a strictly disciplined lifestyle and proceeded to pursue his new duties with rigour. These often brought him into conflict with the King, over taxation, over appeals to Rome, and over the practice of the courts of the land punishing churchmen already punished by church courts. Henry II maintained that he was continuing the customs of his grandfather, Henry I; Thomas rejected these claims in council at Northampton and then fled to France, first to the abbey of Pontigny (where Edmund of Abingdon was later to die) and then to the town of Sens, where his life is still represented in the stained-glass windows of the cathedral. An uneasy truce allowed his return to Canterbury in 1170, but after an immediate further dispute with the King and after Henry's allegedly stated wish to be rid of the 'turbulent priest' he was murdered in Canterbury Cathedral on December 29th., 1170. He was canonised almost immediately (1173) and his shrine established at Canterbury in 1220, to become the goal of the famous Pilgrim's Way. The shrine was demolished at the Reformation, when it was ordered that Thomas' name be removed from the liturgical books of the church, but as more than 80 churches in England alone are dedicated to him it was obviously impossible to eliminate his memory.

Almighty God, you enabled Saint Thomas Becket to lay down his life with undaunted spirit for the rights of your Church. Let his prayers help us to deny ourselves for Christ in this life, and so find our true life in heaven. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The place of the Martyrdom

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