Canterbury – Part 4

The cathedral has its darker side. In the basement lies this altar – the place where St Thomas Becket died.

Canterbury Cathedral

Thomas Becket was Archbishop of Canterbury in the 12th Century, in the time of King Henry II. He and Henry were friends (Becket was Henry’s chancellor at one stage), but fell out over the rights and privileges of the church versus that of the monarchy. Henry wanted the church to live by the rules of the land, but Becket maintained that the church and its clerics should be judged by their own rules (strangely topical given the revelations this week about how the contemporary Catholic church handled its crimes and criminals).

The controversy lasted for a good part of a decade, and by the time Becket had excommunicated many of his advisers Henry had had enough and said so to his court. This inspired four of Henry’s supporters to come to their king’s aid and assassinate the archibishop while he said his prayers.

So Henry got rid of the ‘rogue’ Becket and was able to reassert his position. Becket meanwhile became a martyr of the church and was made saint within two years of his death. His shrine in the cathedral became the main attraction for pilgrims over the centuries. So in my humble opinion, in the end it was even-stevens between the two.

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