Thursday, December 29, 2011

Feast of St. Thomas Becket

St. Thomas Becket was born in AD 1118, in London. He studied in both London and Paris, and became a great friend to King Henry II of England. The two of them indulged in all sorts of unseemly behavior. In 1162, when King Henry appointed him Archbishop of Canterbury, no one was more surprised than Thomas. He took to the job right away, living meagerly so that others could have more. He proved a very powerful archbishop, and his unswerving self-confidence and stubbornness shone through in his labors.

It was the same self-confidence and stubbornness, however, that caused King Henry to grow angry with him. The two disagreed on many issues, including taxation and the balance of power between church and state. But Thomas and Henry both refused to back down. Though the relations between them had been repaired after a while, Thomas excommunicated several bishops for coronating King Henry's son without first seeking Thomas's approval. Henry flew into a rage, and shouted, "Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?" Four of his knights took this to mean he wanted the Archbishop dead.

An eyewitness account states:
...The wicked knight leapt suddenly upon him, cutting off the top of the crown which the unction of sacred chrism had dedicated to God. Next he received a second blow on the head, but still he stood firm and immovable. At the third blow he fell on his knees and elbows, offering himself a living sacrifice, and saying in a low voice, 'For the name of Jesus and the protection of the Church, I am ready to embrace death.' But the third knight inflicted a terrible wound as he lay prostrate. By this stroke, the crown of his head was separated from the head in such a way that the blood white with the brain, and the brain no less red from the blood, dyed the floor of the cathedral. The same clerk who had entered with the knights placed his foot on the neck of the holy priest and precious martyr, and, horrible to relate, scattered the brains and blood about the pavements, crying to the others, 'Let us away, knights; this fellow will arise no more.

After this horrific act, performed in 1170, Thomas became a martyr, and in the following year, King Henry served public penance in apology for the deed.

Having read somewhat extensively on King Henry II, most authors note that Henry was heartbroken that he allowed his anger to murder a friend...but he repented a little too late to save St. Thomas Becket.

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