Thomas Becket was born in Cheapside, about 1118, of parents who were property owners. One of his father’s wealthy friends taught him to ride a horse and other gentlemanly pursuits. He began his education at Merton Priory and overseas in France. He attracted the attention of Theobald, Archbishop of Canterbury, who made him Archdeacon of Canterbury as well as Provost of Beverley after demonstrating his abilities in several important missions. Upon Theobald’s recommendation, he was appointed Chancellor, and as such was truly the King’s man, upholding Henry II in all things.
In 1162, Theobald died, and Henry II, thinking to consolidate his power over the church and to remove ecclesiastical courts from the land appointed Becket as Archbishop of Canterbury. At this time, Thomas became an ascetic, and renounced the chancellorship, and a battle began between him and the king. The King tried to force Becket to sign the Constitutions of Clarendon reducing the church’s authority, but Becket refused, and facing trumped up charges on his behaviour as chancellor, fled to France. After several years of exile and negotiations with the Bishop of Rome and threat of excommunication and interdict, Becket was allowed to return. After a severe breaching of the prerogatives of the Archbishop of Canterbury (coronation of King Henry III) which resulted in the excommunication of the Archbishop of York, Bishop of London, and Bishop of Salisbury. The king is said to have said, “What miserable drones and traitors have I nourished and brought up in my household, who let their lord be treated with such shameful contempt by a low-born cleric?” (This is probably what he said, there are other versions, but this is the most likely) Four knights upon hearing this went off to Canterbury on December 29th of 1170 and after Becket refused to accompany them to Winchester, returned with their weapons and killed Becket during vespers at Canterbury Cathedral. As Becket was dying, he said, “For the name of Jesus and the protection of the Church, I am ready to embrace death.” In shorter terms, Becket died for the prerogatives of the church.
Thomas Becket’s death also affected culture in other ways. A popular pilgrimage to Canterbury lasted for more than 350 years, and in fact the Canterbury Tales were arranged around one such pilgrimage. We note in passing that King Henry VIII had Becket’s shrine and bones destroyed.
Emmanuel, you raised up Thomas Becket to protect the church against the authorities of this world. Help us to remember that the church must be in subjection to you and your word, and not to the authorities or whims of this world: this we ask in the name of Yeshua haMoshiach, who took our nature upon himself to redeem it. Amen. (white)
2 Esdras 2:42-48
1 John 2:3-6, 15-17
Note: If there is no celebration of the Eucharist, the readings of the day may be used for Matins.