Saint Thomas Becket, 1118-1170
Thomas Becket is one of the Saints who is as well-known to secular history as he is to Church history. Thomas, the son of a wealthy English merchant, was born in 1118. A capable, intelligent man, he became Lord Chancellor under King Henry II. Thomas was responsible for many government duties, including leading the army into battle.
When the Archbishop of Canterbury died, Henry named Thomas to the position, even though he had never been ordained a priest. The appointment totally changed Thomas’s life. He began to wear a monastic habit instead of fine clothes and feed the poor instead of giving lavish banquets to the rich.
Because of his change of heart, Thomas began to oppose the king on certain matters. Henry became more and more angry at what he saw as rebellion by his former friend, especially after Thomas excommunicated several clergymen who supported Henry. In fury, Henry said, “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?” Four knights took that as an order and traveled to Canterbury Cathedral on December 29, 1170. Finding Thomas, they hacked him to death with swords. As he lay dying, he said, “For the name of Jesus and the protection of the Church, I am ready to embrace death.”
Almost immediately people began to proclaim him a martyr and Pope Alexander III canonized him just two years after his death. The Canterbury Tales, written by Geoffrey Chaucer in the fourteenth century, tells the story of pilgrims traveling to the shrine of Saint Thomas in Canterbury Cathedral. Even today, people visit the cathedral to pray at the site of Saint Thomas’ murder.
Discuss: Do you find it surprising that being appointed a bishop completely changed Saint Thomas’ life? Why or why not?
Explain to the young people that Saint Thomas has a very strong faith and he stood up for what was right even though he knew he would lose his life.