Saint Thomas Becket: The Iconography

In Canterbury, England, the natal day Not his birthday but the day he died and was "born again" into Heaven of St. Thomas of Canterbury, Bishop and Martyr. For defending justice and ecclesiastical immunities, he was put to the sword by impious men in his own basilica and ascended to Heaven as a martyr. – Roman Martyrology for December 29

As Archbishop of Canterbury St. Thomas Becket engaged in a bitter dispute with Henry II over the independence of the Church. He was finally assassinated while saying Mass by some of Henry's knights, as illustrated in the detail above from a French chasse.

Because of Becket's fame as an opponent of royal authority, Henry VIII and his Protestant heirs undertook a determined effort to suppress his cult and destroy his images. Thus there are few intact images of him in his homeland, and there never were very many elsewhere. The saint does take his place among some heavy hitters in the main apse at Monreale, Sicily.

Prepared in 2015 by Richard Stracke, Emeritus Professor of English, Augusta University

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SHOWN ABOVE

Detail from an enamel chasse in the Cluny Museum, Paris

DATES

  • Feast day: December 29. The translation "Translation" is the ritual moving of a saint's remains to a church or chapel more suitable for veneration of his relics is celebrated on July 7.

NAMES

  • Also known as St. Thomas of Canterbury, St. Thomas of London, or St. Thomas à Becket

HAGIOGRAPHY

  • Golden Legend #11: html or pdf
  • Sherry Reames, ed. "Liturgical Offices for the Cult of St. Thomas Becket" (including seven "lessons" "Readings" read to the congregants during Mass or the Divine Office covering Becket's life), in Head, 561-593.
  • Edward Grim, The Murder of Thomas Becket
  • Roman Breviary (1908 English translation), I, 673.

ALSO SEE