Saint Thomas Becket

Feast Day - December 29

Patron Saint  of Secular Clergy in England;
officials; Portsmouth, England

St Thomas BecketThomas Becket, the most revered English saint, was born in London to middle-class Norman parents.  As a young boy he studied with the canons regular at Merton priory in Surrey.  At age 24, he accepted a post in the household of Theobald, archbishop of Canterbury, who was quite taken with the young man.  Thomas received minor orders under the archbishop's tutelage, and the archbishop sent him to study law in Bologna and Auxerre.  Theobald also provided Thomas with several church benefices for his support.  In 1154, Thomas was ordained a deacon, then appointed archdeacon of Canterbury, the highest ecclesiastical position in England after the bishops and abbots.;  after the accession of King Henry II in 1154, Chancellor of England.

St Becket 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 rigor. 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 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 and then to the town of Sens, where his life is still represented in the stained-glass windows of the cathedral (picture shown on this page).

An uneasy truce allowed St Becket's return to Canterbury in 1170, but after an immediate further dispute with the King (over the coronation of the Crown Prince) 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 canonized 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.

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