Catholic Life

Our Patron – St Thomas a Becket

Thomas Becket, (also known as Saint Thomas of Canterbury, Thomas of London and later Thomas à Becket) was born in Cheapside, London on 21 December (the Feast of St Thomas the Apostle) in either 1119 or 1120. As many historians believe 1120 is the right date, this December marks the 900th anniversary of his birth.

He died on 29 December 1170, murdered by knights who were followers of King Henry II, King of England.

As Archbishop of Canterbury, Becket was the most important Church Leader of the country and openly disagreed with the King over the rights and privileges of the Church in England. The courage involved in this reflected both the power of the King Becket confronted but also the fact that they were once friends. Henry initially exiled Thomas for 6 years, but after his return to England and his continued challenge, spoke the words “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?” which led to his death. Pope Alexander III created Becket saint very shortly after his death.

Thomas’ death in Canterbury Cathedral was seen as one of the most terrible and famous events of the Medieval period in Europe. Shocked and horrified pilgrims flocked to Canterbury Cathedral and King Henry dressed in sackcloth and knelt in penitence to try to deflect the anger and disgust of the people. He also made Thomas’ sister an Abbess (in charge of an Abbey or convent) to try to repair the damage done.

News of the murder in the cathedral spread quickly across and beyond Europe.

Canterbury Cathedral was already the most important church in England and visited by many pilgrims, but through the middle ages, pilgrims came on foot and often hundreds of miles to visit to pray where Thomas had died. These pilgrimages to the shrine of St Thomas a Becket are captured in famous literature such as Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (written between 1387 and 1400) as is the death of Becket in T.S.Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral.

Becket’s fame and appeal made him a key contender to be Patron Saint of England. Until the reign of Edward III, St Edmund was the national patron saint.  Edward, succeeding to the throne after a disastrous period for the monarchy, in effect rebranded royalty and England itself and the highly embellished stories around St George – notably the slaying of the dragon – were a huge element in that choice.  Edward rejected Thomas because he was so closely linked to the city of Canterbury and Edward wanted a London-centric power base, but also to ally the Georgian attributes of chivalry and soldiery to his new-style reign of England. He ignored the uncomfortable truth that the real life St George (rather than the myth), like St Thomas a Becket, spoke truth to power and was willing to sacrifice his life for his faith, rejecting worldly goods and power.

Visitors to Canterbury Cathedral today will find the pilgrims’ passage running from the Rose Window side door, under the High Altar to the small chapel in which Becket was killed.

When Pope John Paul II visited the UK in 1984, he knelt in this chapel in prayer with the serving Archbishop of Canterbury – Dr Robert Runcie – the first time a Pope and an Anglican Leader had done so in this place or this way since Henry VIII’s time.

Our motto at Becket’s reflects our patron’s life and choices:

“Esse Quam Videri” – “Be – don’t just seem to Be”

On being created Archbishop of Canterbury, Becket – friend and mentor of King Henry II, made a conscious and brave decision to fully live his position, defending the Church and putting God first whatever that cost.

We aim to be learn to be true to our deepest calling and selves, made in the image of God, with a unique calling in life.

Our emblem is the circle of God’s eternal love, with 3 sections representing the Trinity, 3 swords to remind us that Becket died at sword point for God and 3 choughs (otherwise known as ravens or crows) taken from the Coat of Arms designed to represent Becket after his death. Choughs are also called “Beckits” and one legend says that a chough flew into the Cathedral during Becket’s murder. Choughs still represent the City of Canterbury.

DID YOU KNOW? St Thomas à Becket celebrates their highest ever GCSE progress score! Click here to find out more