Main Altar – Thomas a Becket

Thomas à Becket (c. 1118 – December 29, 1170) was Archbishop of Canterbury from 1162 to his death. He is venerated as a saint and martyr by both the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion. He engaged in conflict with Henry II of England over the rights and privileges of the Church and was assassinated by followers of the king in Canterbury Cathedral. Thomas Becket was in Cheapside, London, and learned to ride a horse, hunt, behave like a gentleman and engage in popular sports such as jousting. Beginning when he was ten, he received a brilliant education in civil and canon law at Merton Priory in England, and then overseas at Paris, Bologna and Auxerre. Upon returning to England, he attracted the notice of Theobald, Archbishop of Canterbury, who entrusted him with several important missions to Rome and finally made him Archdeacon of Canterbury and Provost of Beverley. He so distinguished himself by his zeal and efficiency that Theobald recommended him to King Henry II when the important office of Lord Chancellor was vacant. Henry desired to be absolute ruler of his dominions, both Church and State, and sought less clerical independence and a weaker connection with Rome. Thomas achieved his final position of power as the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1162, several months after the death of Theobald. Henry intended to further his influence by directing the actions of Thomas and diminish the independence and affluence of the Church in England. The famous transformation of Becket into an ascetic occurred at this time. A rift grew; Thomas was officially asked to sign off on the king’s rights or face political repercussions. Becket refused to sign the documents and fled to the Continent, where Louis VII of France received him with respect and offered him protection. Henry, alarmed by the prospect of excommunication, allowed Thomas to return to England and resume his place. However, knights who sought to gain favor with the king assassinated Thomas in a side chapel of the cathedral in Canterbury. Soon after, the faithful throughout Europe began venerating Becket as a martyr, and in 1173—barely three years after his death—he was canonized by Pope Alexander III in St. Peter’s Church in Segni.

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