Becket, Saint Thomas

Becket, Saint Thomas

biographical name


Martyrdom of Thomas Becket, illustration from an English psalter, c. 1220; in the British …—© The British Library/Heritage-Images

(born c. 1118, Cheapside, London, Eng.—died Dec. 29, 1170, Canterbury, Kent; canonized 1173; feast day December 29) Archbishop of Canterbury (1162–70). The son of a Norman merchant, he served as chancellor of England (1155–62) under Henry II, whose entire trust he won. A brilliant administrator, diplomat, and military strategist, he aided the king in increasing the royal power. Resistant to the Gregorian reform movement that asserted the autonomy of the church, Henry hoped to reinforce royal control of the church by appointing Becket archbishop of Canterbury in 1162. Becket, however, embraced his new duties devoutly and opposed royal power in the church, especially proclaiming the right of offending clerics to be tried in ecclesiastical courts. The king issued the Constitutions of Clarendon (1164) listing royal rights over the church, and he summoned the archbishop to trial. Becket fled to France and remained in exile until 1170, when he returned to Canterbury and was murdered in the cathedral by four of Henry's knights, traditionally said to be acting in response to the king's angry words. Becket's tomb, which was visited by Henry in an act of penance, became a site of pilgrimage.


Becket, Saint Thomas or Thomas à Becket

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