Thursday, April 23, 2015

Thomas Becket: The Murder and Haunting, Part l

On a cold December evening a sword’s crushing blow ended the life of Sir Thomas Becket.

Thomas Becket
His friend King Henry ll named Becket Archbishop of Canterbury in 1161. The king felt he now had a loyal subject at the top of the church that would bend to his will.

But the two men fell out over the churches right to try clerics in their own religious courts. In 1163, a church court acquitted a canon accused of murder. Immediately, a public outcry demanded justice.

This protest spurred Kind Henry to change the law, so his court’s jurisdiction was extended over the clergy. However, Becket refused to recognize this law.

Angry now, the King summoned Becket to the court at Northampton and demanded to know where large sums of money was located that had passed through Becket's hands.

King Henry ll
Becket fled to France, knowing he had lost the King’s favor. He remained in exile for six years. By 1170 the two friends seemed to have resolved their discord for Becket returned to his post at Canterbury.

But it wasn’t long before the two were embroiled in another dispute. While in exile in France, Becket had excommunicated the Bishops of London and Salisbury for their support of the King.

Upon his return, Becket refused to absolve these bishops. The King hearing this news in Normandy became enraged. His ire became public, and four knights set sail for England “to rid the realm of this annoying archbishop.”

They arrived in Canterbury on the afternoon of December 29th. Becket, hearing of their presence fled to Canterbury Cathedral where a service was in progress. The knights found him at the altar.

The murder.
They drew their swords and began hacking at Becket until a fatal blow split his skull.

His death unnerved the King, and the knights who killed Becket to curry favor with the King fell into disgrace instead.

After Becket's death, he quickly was martyred. He was made a saint in 1173 after several miracles happened at his tomb in Canterbury Cathedral. Thousands made pilgrimages to his grave, ensuring it became a shrine.

Four years after Becket’s death, the King in the act of penance donned a sackcloth and walked through the streets of Canterbury barefoot while 80 monks flogged him. He then spent the night at the martyr’s tomb.

Sir Thomas Becket was a revered figure for the remainder of the Middle Ages.

In Part ll of Thomas Becket: The Murder and Haunting, I share two stories about where his ghost has been seen.

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