Saturday, December 29, 2012

The 5th Day Of Christmas - Feast of St. Thomas a Becket

Today is the fifth day of the Twelve Days of Christmas.

The Feast of St. Thomas a Becket is celebrated this day. One of the overarching issues of the Medieval world was where the authority of the Papacy ended and the authority of kings began. It was an issue that would consume St. Thomas.

Thomas a Becket was born into 12th century England. As Chancellor to King Henry II, he came to be a close confidant of the King. He even accompanied the King to war, reportedly acquitting himself well in battle. But then, in 1161, when Henry appointed Becket to be the Archbishop of Canterbury, Becket became a defender of Papal authority. At particular issue was the Papacy's claim of right to try felonious monks and other lawless clergy in Church courts. Henry wanted to end this custom and subject criminal clergy to Royal courts. Becket was intransigent, even going so far as to excommunicate other English bishops who supported Henry on the issue. Henry, in a rage, famously asked “Who will rid me of this troublesome priest?”

Four of Henry's knights took it upon themselves to do just that. Travelling to Canterbury on this date in 1170, with their weapons in hand, they confronted Becket and demanded he lift the excommunications. Becket refused, then “commended himself and the cause of the Church to God, St. Mary, and the blessed martyr St. Denis.” His assassins put Becket to the sword, spilling his brains on the Cathedral floor.

Much of the medieval world erupted in horror at Becket's murder. Pilgrimages to the site followed soon thereafter with numerous miracles occurring that were attributed to Becket. The Church canonized Becket in 1173. King Henry presented himself at the tomb of Becket to make public penance, allowing himself to be scourged by the local clerics.

Canterbury became the third greatest site of pilgrimage in all of Europe.

The first great work of literature composed in English, Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales," is set against the backdrop of travelers on a pilgrimage to Becket's shrine.

St. Thomas is, today, the patron saint of priests.

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