Who is St. Thomas Becket, whose Feast Day is December 29th?
What does he have to do with St. Andrew's Parish? One of our parishioners, Jean-Jacques Vitrac, is actually related to him.
Thomas Becket, probably the best known of all English saints was in fact French ! And his last name was originally written as Becquet, not Becket. His father Gilbert was born in Normandy and went to the Crusades. He was even made prisoner by the Sultan of Egypt and escaped back to Europe. Gilbert initially went to England with William the Conqueror and his Norman army, and later worked in London as a merchant. He had four children, one of which was Thomas. Educated in Paris and in Rome, Thomas Becket served King Henry II as a military officer, a diplomat and a cleric. Thomas became archdeacon of the diocese of Canterbury before becoming archbishop by the will of King Henry. Thomas staunchly defended the interests and privileges of the Church instead of siding with the King, as expected by Henry II. Because of his fierce opposition to the Crown, and despite a long relationship with King Henry, going back to their friendship as adolescents, Thomas had to leave England for many years and go into exile in France and in Rome, to the Vatican.
On Dec. 29, 1170, Thomas was murdered in the Canterbury Cathedral by three baron knights who thought they would please the King of England. It was unfortunately a terrible misunderstanding. King Henry had in fact a deep affection for Thomas and mourned the Archbishop of Canterbury for years, doing penance on Thomas' grave in the Cathedral. In July 1174, King Henry came once more to Canterbury and to Becket's grave to mourn the death of Thomas and be flogged by the monks as a sign of penance. As a reward, the very next day, the great rebellion and political crises of 1173-1174 ended in the country and William the Lion, King of the Scots, was captured at Alnwick. Sixteen months before that historical penance, Thomas had been canonized by Pope Alexander III. Over 700 miracles are recorded during the decade after the assassination. Within a few years, the murdered archbishop brought Canterbury to the status of a major western European pilgrimage while his life and example became an inspiration for all. In 1954, a play was written by French author Jean Anouilh with the title of "Becket or the Honor of God.". Twenty years later, in 1974, Hollywood turned that play into a film - "Becket" - with Richard Burton as King Henry and Peter O'Toole as Becket. Thomas left a tradition of European diplomacy, dedication to the poor and oppressed, and intelligent opposition to the Crown of England in order to protect the interest and possessions of the Catholic Church from the greed of Government. Today in the US, the Becket Fund is a nonprofit organization offering free legal assistance to those brought to Court for their religious beliefs. The Becket Fund is a testimony to Thomas Becket search for Justice.