December 21, 1118: Thomas Becket is born. Although his date of birth is known because it was the feast day of St. Thomas the Apostle, the year is a bit uncertain. He may have been born in 1120, as later tradition stated. What is known about him comes from historians of the era. He was born in Cheapside, London and his father came from Normandy. The elder Beket was either a small landowner or a petty knight, having moved up from his start in the business world as a textile merchant. By the time his famous son was born, he was able to make a living from collecting rents on the properties he own in London. He served as the sheriff and was able to accrue some wealthy friends. This allowed Thomas to spend time in Sussex at the estates of Richer de L’Aigle.
Thomas was sent to Merton Priory to study when he was ten and was then educated in London, perhaps at St. Paul’s Cathedral before taking a year to study in Paris, about the time he was 20. He did not ever study canon or civil law and his Latin was never as good as he might have hoped. His father suffered some financial difficulties and Thomas was forced to work as a clerk rather than continue his schooling. Thomas was given a position in the household of Theobald of Bec, the Archbishop of Canterbury. Theobald sent Thomas on several important missions to Rome and also sent him to the continent to study canonical law. In 1154, Theobald named Thomas Archdeacon of Canterbury which entailed other ecclesiastical offices.
Thomas was appointed as Lord Chancellor in 1155 and in that capacity was in charge of collecting revenues. He also hosted King Henry II’s son in his home, as was customary of the times. Becket was elected as Archbishop of Canterbury on May 23, 1162 and King Henry may have hoped Thomas would continue to put King before God. However, Becket’s conversion into an ascetic took place shortly after his election. The King and Archbishop’s relationship unraveled beginning almost immediately. By 1164, the Constitutions of Clarendon pitted the King against his one-time friend and Henry had Thomas brought to Northampton Castle to face charges of contempt. Becket fled to the continent.
The King’s men pursued him there and the Church helped to protect and hide the Archbishop. Early in 1170, Thomas was permitted to return from exile and took up residence in Canterbury once again. In June 1170, the next Henry was crowned as heir apparent without Thomas’s presence. In November of 1170, Thomas excommunicated all the participants, as was his right. Thomas began to excommunicate all of his enemies and Henry learned of this. Henry’s comments were interpreted as a command to kill Thomas. On December 29, 1170 he was killed as he was on his way to pray. Thomas Becket is revered as a saint by both the Catholic and the Anglican Churches.
Remember the sufferings of Christ, the storms that were weathered… the crown that came from those sufferings which gave new radiance to the faith… All saints give testimony to the truth that without real effort, no one ever wins the crown. – Thomas Becket
Many are needed to plant and water what has been planted now that the faith has spread so far and there are so many people… No matter who plants or waters, God gives no harvest unless what is planted is the faith of Peter and unless he agrees to his teachings. – Thomas Becket
Who will rid me of this troublesome priest? – King Henry II, traditionally
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? – King Henry II, according to Edward Grim
Also on this day: Can You Use Ink? – In 1913, Arthur Wynn invented the crossword puzzle.
Norway – In 1962, Norway established its first national park.
Four in One Year – In 69 AD, Vespasian became Emperor of Rome.
Honor – In 1861, the Medal of Honor was instituted.
Cooperatively – In 1844, the Rochdale Society opened their first store.