St Thomas Becket was an English Archbishop of Canterbury martyred in 1170. King Henry II disputed with St Thomas Becket over the authority of the Church vs. the monarch.
What is Saint Thomas Becket Known For?
Thomas Becket, also known as Saint Thomas of Canterbury and now St Thomas à Becket, was born on St Thomas Day (December 21st) either in 1118 or 1119 in Cheapside, London.
He was educated in France, and his parents died when he was in school.
Thomas was an athletic, decisive young man who enjoyed falconry and hunting.
The Archbishop of Canterbury hired him and Thomas decided to take minor orders and become a Churchman.
He went on to study in Italy and France before being ordained to the diaconate in 1154. The Archbishop of Canterbury then made him archdeacon of Canterbury.
His diplomacy and tact led him to being chosen for various assignments in Rome, including with the Pope, and he also was named Chancellor at this time.
He was close friends with King Henry II, with whom he spent much time, even entering into battle under the King, though Thomas was a cleric.
When the Archbishop of Canterbury died, the King wanted to appoint Thomas to the post, but Thomas tried to stop him, knowing that conflict would arise between them over the duties and rights of the Church vs the King.
The King ignored Thomas’s concerns and he was elected Archbishop of Canterbury in May of 1162. (He was sped through ordinations to the priesthood and then to the episcopate.)
Taking full responsibility of the weight of his new position, Thomas lived simply and took on many personal mortifications and penances.
The King and Thomas though started arguing, first about taxes the Church paid on their lands.
Their dispute escalated with the question of whether Churchmen should be tried by ecclesiastical courts or by the King’s civil courts.
This escalation led to the King becoming angry at Thomas and seeking to force him to forfeit property and monies to the Crown.
Thomas refused, and the King began to persecute him and ostracize him, along with anyone who gave him aid.
Thomas returned to his cathedral, but on December 29th, the King sent four knights to make him change his ruling concerning three other bishops. Thomas refused, and the Knights attacked him and killed him in the church.
The king heard later what had transpired, and he began doing a lengthy penance, knowing that he had inadvertenly brought up his old friend’s death.
Within three years of his death, St Thomas Becket was canonised by Pope Alexander III as a martyr.
After his death, mortifications such as his hair-shirt were discovered, and miracles were wrought through St Thomas’s intercession, confirming his sanctity (in spite of his fiery personality).
King Henry VIII would later plunder St Thomas Becket’s shrine, and now his relics are lost.