Thomas Becket

Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, was murdered  on this day in 1170. This alabaster panel shows Becket kneeling before an altar with four knights approaching from behind – two of them are about to attack him with swords. The figure with the cross behind the altar represents Edward Grim, a clerk from Cambridge who witnessed the atrocity. The murder was committed in a side chapel of Canterbury Cathedral, the knights acting on a misunderstood instruction from King Henry II who was in dispute with Becket over the relative privileges of Church and Crown.

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2 Responses to Thomas Becket

  1. alfy says:

    If the details of the conflict between King Henry II and Archbishop Thomas Beckett was explained carefully, to any modern audience, I think that most people would side with the king. In those days, when a person in holy orders of any kind, even at the lowest level below that of a priest or deacon, committed a crime like robbery, rape or murder, he could apply to be tried by a church court. This was often more lenient than the civil authorities would be.
    Many people, including the king thought this was unfair. The same justice should apply to everyone, whether clerk (religious) or lay person. It was put sarcastically, in the phrase, “It would take one murder to hang a layman, but two murders to hang a priest.”

    A hangover from this mindset survives to the present day. Rape has been a crime for centuries, and sex with minors (under 16) is also a crime. Yet when church leaders, at any level, discovered assaults on children, they failed to immediately report the crime to the local police, and “dealt with it themselves” often by transferring the criminal to another parish, where his proclivities were unknown and further children could be assaulted. Citizens of this country do not have the right to deal with crimes themselves, that is what the police are for.
    Failing to report a serious crime to the police is a crime in itself. Had some of these ecclesiastics been charged with failing to report crime, and covering it up, and been given jail sentences this would have done more good than all the fruitless debate over the last decade. What would St Thomas of Canterbury have made of an Anglican archbishop and a clutch of Catholic bishops in jail, I wonder? What would Henry II have said? (Answers on a postcard) I bet Henry would have laughed.

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