St. Thomas Becket, pray for us!

This is a translated and expanded version of what I wrote in 2010 and in 2013.

Martertod des Hl. Thomas von Canterbury by Master Francke (c.1380-c.1440), painted c.1424-1436.

Today marks the feast day of St. Thomas Becket, bishop and martyr. Thomas was born c.1119 in Cheapside, London, on 21 December, the feast day of St. Thomas the Apostle, and died as a martyr in Canterbury Cathedral, 29 December 1170), as we can see from Wikipedia.

He was born into a Norman family and studied at Merton Priory from the age of 10 and later at a grammar school in London. Later, after some years with jobs and financial troubles, Thomas was able to study canon law in Bologna and Auxerre. In 1154 he was made Archdeacon of Canterbury by Theobald of Bec, then Archbishop of Canterbury, the same year that Henry d’Anjou ascended the English throne (at the age of 21, becoming king Henry II), and because of his skill, Thomas was recommended by the Archbishop to the king for the vacant post of Lord Chancellor. As Lord Chancellor, Thomas “enforced the king’s traditional sources of revenue that were exacted from all landowners, including churches and bishoprics” (according to Wikipedia). This was, according to the website of the Roman Catholic Church in Norway, the first English-born man to have such a high ranking office after the Norman invasion in 1066. (That doesn’t mean, of course, that Thomas was Saxon, as is claimed in the movie Becket, but that his Norman family has moved to England where he was born.)

Eventually, Thomas was made archbishpp of Canterbury in 1162, most likely because the king thought he would get ‘his own man’ in the Church. But Thomas took his appointment quite seriously and his “famous transformation … into an ascetic occurred at this time” (Wikipedia). He laid down his office as Lord Chancellor and said of himself, “From a patron of actors and a follower of hounds, I was made pastor of so many souls.”[1] Thomas eventually became a burden for the king, partly because he pushed for the right of the Church, and the king is supposed to have said to his court, “Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?” (though there’s no record of him saying this).[2] Because of his commitment to his post, and his conflicts with the Crown, Thomas was murdered. This was most likely not the king’s purpose, but four knights – Reginald Fitzurse, William de Tracy, Hugh de Morville, and Richard le Breton – took the king’s alleged question seriously and went to Canterbury Cathedral om 29 Desember 1170 where they murdered Thomas as he was praying vespers.

Poster for the movie Becket (1964).

Today I plan to pray vespers in his memory, and I plan to watch the excellent movie Becket, though it is not entirely historically accurate. It claims that Thomas was a Saxon, and it portrays him and the king as roughly the same age (and as almost buddies). In reality, Thomas was 14 years older than the king. The picture here is the poster or DVD cover. St. Thomas Becket, pray for us!

Let us pray:[3]

O God, for the sake of whose Church the glorious Bishop Thomas fell by the sword of ungodly men: grant, we beseech Thee, that all who implore his aid, may obtain the good fruit of his petition. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Who livest and reignest with Thee in the unity of the Holy Spirit, forever and ever. Amen.


[1] See The Lives of Thomas Becket. Selected sources translated and annotated by Michael Staunton (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2001), 97.

[2] Ibid., 30, n18.

[3] This is a prayer taken from the Roman Missal. See here.

2 thoughts on “St. Thomas Becket, pray for us!

  1. Wow. It’s the first time to greeting you by a comment. I’m really one of the biggest fans of your blog! I’ve read all the english posts (maybe) haha. Especially posting about the thoughts on the Holy scriptures and Traditions. That fitted me.

  2. By the way, how do you pray the divine office nowadays? Along the Anglican tradition, or of Roman?

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