The Fifth Day of Christmas | St. Thomas Becket, Martyr | December 29, 2021
St. Thomas á Becket, Martyr
December 21, 1118 | December 29 1170
In 1162, King Henry II of England appointed his friend, Thomas Becket, to the highest position in England’s church as the Archbishop of Canterbury. His middle-class background and family connections allowed Becket to move quickly up the ecclesiastical ladder as he became an assistant to Theobald, who held the title at the time. The seat lay empty for almost a year after the death of Becket’s predecessor as he tried to avoid confrontation with Henry over where his loyalties would land on decisions involving the crown and the church. Despite Becket’s warnings to the contrary, Henry made the appointment with the expectation of loyalty to no avail.
As the leader of the church in England, Becket’s faith deepened and this personal reformation created conflict with his friend and monarch, Henry Plantagenet. Henry’s expectations led only to frustration and ire culminating in Becket’s brutal murder at the hands four overzealous knights who took the king’s words as an order to execute the archbishop. Standing at the altar of Canterbury Cathedral Becket fell to his death from a sword to head. “His last words were an acceptance of death in defense of the church of Christ.” The aftermath of his execution resulted in the excommunication of the knights and a very public penance and ritual flogging for Henry II at the hands of the monks inside the tomb of his slain friend. The four murderers were later reinstated by Pope Alexander III after fulfilling a commitment of fourteen years as knights in the Holy Lands. The pope immediately began to fast-track Becket to sainthood and had him canonized within two years of his martyrdom. Incidentally, Becket had been granted sainthood for a year before Henry’s penance and absolution after which the monarch continued to make the changes St. Thomas so vehemently opposed. We commemorate St. Thomas Becket on this Fifth Day of Christmas for his willingness to stand for the right against even his closest friend.
Glen A. Kirk
December 29, 2021
Resources: Knowles, M. David (2021, December 25). St. Thomas Becket. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Saint-Thomas-Becket Franciscan Media. (2020, December 29). Saint Thomas Becket. Franciscan Media. Retrieved December 29, 2021, from https://www.franciscanmedia.org/saint-of-the-day/saint-thomas-becket History.com Editors, (2010, February 9). Archbishop Thomas Becket is murdered. History.com. Retrieved December 29, 2021, from https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/the-making-of-an-english-martyr