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Saint Thomas Becket

By Levi Clancy for Student Reader on

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Lived 1118 - 1170
Rank and group: Bishop, martyr
Feast day: 29 December
Patron saint: Canterbury
Attributes: Sword in his skull, death at an altar
Status: Roman Martyrology

Thomas Becket was born in London to Norman parents. He studied in Paris. In 1141 he entered the service of Archbishop Theobald of Canterbury. Theobald sent Becket to Bologna and Auxerre to study civil and canon law and in 1154 made him his archdeacon.

Becket soon became a bosom friend of Henry II. In 1155 Henry II appointed Becket as chancellor of the kingdom. In 1162 he was appointed archbishop of Canterbury, a post that he reluctantly took after the king persuaded him. He had until then lived a cosmopolitan life, but being appoint archbishop compelled him to transition to asceticism and faithfully tend to his pastoral duties.

Becket firmly believed that church and state should remain separate. When the king tried to interfere with church matters, Becket refused to obey. The enraged king cursed recklessly in a drunken stupor. Four of his knights took his inebriated ravings against his friend seriously, and set off to Canterbury where they cut him down in his own cathedral. This sacrilege reverberated throughout Europe, and especially within the kingdom. He instantly was seen as a martyr, which was confirmed by his canonization in 1173 after a mere few years. His shrine became one of Christendom's most famous.