St Thomas Becket

Jan Leeming

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Jan's Blog

Computers and the internet are amazing things. One of my concerns with putting together this site was that it could remain current, yet with all my travelling I've often much to say, but little time to say it. Years ago when reading the news it would take me days on end to reply to the kind letters people sent. Now, with the magic of the modern age, I can keep you up to date with what I'm doing and other events in my life.


Date: 30th December 2012


Archbishop Thomas Becket was murdered in Canterbury Cathedral on December 29th 1170 at the time of Vespers.

His martyrdom, miracles and subsequent canonisation brought pilgrims in their droves to Canterbury. The City and the Church thrived for centuries on his memory. Fifty years after his death his remains were ‘translated’ from the Crypt to a magnificent shrine in the Trinity Chapel and remained there until its destruction in 1538 on the orders of Henry VIII who declared Becket to have been a traitor to his King (Henry II). (Mind you they took away many cartloads of gold, silver and precious jewels from the destroyed shrine and the Regale of France, a large cabochon ruby given by Louis VII, ended up in a ring which you can see on Henry’s finger in the Holbein portrait)

Today a large proportion of the visitors to our lovely Cathedral come to see the place where he was murdered which is now commemorated with a very simple altar and sculpture - The Altar of the Sword’s Point.

Every year his death is commemorated with Choral Evensong and a Procession to the Martyrdom. I’ve never been to the service so decided that this year I would attend and was fortunate enough to get a seat in the Quire. You have to get there early.  On entering we were all given a candle and shortly after the service began all the candles were lit from one person to another. We processed to the Martyrdom where a short scene was enacted from T. S. Eliot’s ‘The Murder in the Cathedral’ the point at which the monks close the doors to keep out the knights and Becket demands that they be opened.

We then moved to the Undercroft and more short readings from the Eliot play, prayers and singing by the Choir. The Archbishop then led the congregation back to the Nave and a final hymn in which we all joined.

It would be difficult to convey the ‘majesty’ of the service. Having been brought up in Catholic Convents I still find that a Service in Latin has more gravitas - totally at odds with the simplicity of the services in the Huguenot Chapel which I often attend.   And of course there was much use of Incense so that really took me back to the days of my youth.  The Cathedral was packed as it has been so often over the Christmas week.

And then the Archbishop, Bishop of Dover and Dean stood by the Great West Door shaking hands with all and sundry. They must have shaken thousands of hands over the past week.

Wishing you all a Very Happy and Healthy New Year. Jan


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