St Thomas Becket: Archbishop hails ‘model’ saint 850 years after his murder

Michael Drummond, PA South East Correspondent
·2-min read

The “model” life of St Thomas Becket has been recalled by the Archbishop of Canterbury on the 850th anniversary of his murder.

Becket was cut down by knights loyal to King Henry II on December 29 1170, in an assassination that shook medieval England.

That Becket, then archbishop of Canterbury, could be killed in front of witnesses as he sheltered in Canterbury Cathedral remains a shocking event.

Now, current Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has paid tribute to the saint’s life and legacy.

Current Archbishop pays tribute to Becket
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby (right) with the Dean of Canterbury Cathedral, the Very Rev Robert Willis, outside the cathedral (Gareth Fuller/PA)

He drew parallels between Becket and those who to this day face persecution and death for their faith across the globe.

He told the PA news agency: “As the 105th archbishop, I do not fear for my life even when entering controversial political discussions.

“However, around the world there are still those who face discrimination, persecution and death for their faith.

“St Thomas, our Canterbury martyr, gives us a model of a life and a death that bore witness to Jesus, our true, eternal king and saviour.”

Arguably the most famous archbishop of Canterbury, Becket was a second-generation French immigrant born in around 1120 who went on to occupy two of the highest offices in the country.

He began working for then-archbishop of Canterbury Theobald, through whom he met King Henry II.

Becket was appointed chancellor of England and the pair became close friends.

When it came time to appoint a new archbishop of Canterbury, Henry put Becket forward in an attempt to gain greater control over the Church.

However, after he was consecrated, Becket later resigned as chancellor, causing a rift with the king.

Current Archbishop pays tribute to Becket
A stained glass image of St Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral (Canterbury Cathedral/PA)

Becket eventually moved to France where he lived in exile for six years while Henry ruled England.

In December 1170, he returned to Canterbury Cathedral, but when news reached Henry that Beckett had excommunicated the archbishop of York and two bishops from the Church, he was outraged.

The king is said to have exclaimed: “Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?”

It is not known if Henry ordered Becket’s assassination, but the four knights who travelled to Canterbury had close ties to the king.

Becket’s murder in his own cathedral sent shockwaves through medieval society and Canterbury became a popular pilgrimage destination.

Following his death, a series of miracles were recorded and he was made a saint on February 21 1173.

Mr Welby added: “Becket is most remembered for the quarrels with Henry II that led up to his martyrdom, but this ‘turbulent priest’ was a man of great personal holiness.

“He had once lived a life full of the intrigues and battles of politics, but as archbishop chose a simpler life, with Jesus Christ as the pattern for his calling.”