Feast Day: December 29th
When Thomas Becket was martyred by the knights of Henry II, a young monk, Thomas Grim, was at his side. Surviving being struck by the same sword-blow that first felled the holy Archbishop, he wrote this firsthand account of the bloody evening, and gives us an intimate glimpse of his virtue and courage:
80. After the monks took [Thomas] through the doors of the church, the four aforementioned knights followed behind with a rapid pace. A certain subdeacon, Hugh the Evil-clerk, named for his wicked offense and armed with their malice, went with them showing no reverence for either God or the saints because by following them he condoned their deed. When the holy archbishop entered the cathedral the monks who were glorifying God abandoned vespers – which they had begun to celebrate for God – and ran to their father whom they had heard was dead but they saw alive and unharmed. They hastened to close the doors of the church in order to bar the enemies from slaughtering the bishop, but the wondrous athlete turned toward them and ordered that the doors be opened. “It is not proper,” he said, “that a house of prayer, a church of Christ, be made a fortress since although it is not shut up, it serves as a fortification for his people; we will triumph over the enemy through suffering rather than by fighting – and we come to suffer, not to resist.“
Without delay the sacrilegious men entered the house of peace and reconciliation with swords drawn; indeed the sight alone as well as the rattle of arms inflicted not a small amount of horror on those who watched. And those knights who approached the confused and disordered people who had been observing vespers but, by now, had run toward the lethal spectacle exclaimed in a rage: “Where is Thomas Becket, traitor of the king and kingdom?” No one responded and instantly they cried out more loudly, “Where is the archbishop?” Unshaken he replied to this voice as it is written, “The righteous will be like a bold lion and free from fear,” he descended from the steps to which he had been taken by the monks who were fearful of the knights and said in an adequately audible voice, “Here I am, not a traitor of the king but a priest; why do you seek me?” And [Thomas], who had previously told them that he had no fear of them added, “Here I am ready to suffer in the name of He who redeemed me with His blood; God forbid that I should flee on account of your swords or that I should depart from righteousness.“
With these words – at the foot of a pillar – he turned to the right. On one side was the altar of the blessed mother of God, on the other the altar of the holy confessor Benedict – through whose example and prayers he had been crucified to the world and his lusts; he endured whatever the murderers did to him with such constancy of the soul that he seemed as if he were not of flesh. The murderers pursued him and asked, “Absolve and restore to communion those you have excommunicated and return to office those who have been suspended.” To these words [Thomas] replied, “No penance has been made, so I will not absolve them.” “Then you,” they said, “will now die and will suffer what you have earned.” “And I,” he said, “am prepared to die for my Lord, so that in my blood the church will attain liberty and peace; but in the name of Almighty God I forbid that you hurt my men, either cleric or layman, in any way.” The glorious martyr acted conscientiously with foresight for his men and prudently on his own behalf, so that no one near him would be hurt as he hastened toward Christ. It was fitting that the soldier of the Lord and the martyr of the Savior adhered to His words when he was sought by the impious, “If it is me you seek, let them leave.“
In this article, I don’t have enough room to include Grim’s entire account, but he records the Archbishop’s final words in paragraph 82. “…with another blow received on the head, he remained firm. But with the third the stricken martyr bent his knees and elbows, offering himself as a living sacrifice, saying in a low voice, “For the name of Jesus and the protection of the church I am ready to embrace death.“”
Thomas Grim, Vita S. Thomae, Cantuariensis Archepiscopi et Martyris (from James Robertson, Materials for the Life of Thomas Becket, London, Rolls Series, 1875-1885. Vol. 2 of 7. Translated by Dawn Marie Hayes and found on the Internet Medieval Source Book. Want more? Scan the QR code for the rest of the account (be warned, his death is brutally recounted):
– Fr. Dominic Rankin recently got together with the five other priests who make up his fraternal support group. Along with praying, eating, enjoying each other’s company, and hearing about the ups and downs while following the Lord, we also had an Advent gift-exchange. Unwrapping one of the gifts I was given, one of the other guys exclaimed “is that a sword?!” No, I am not the happy owner of a sword, but I do now have a fine kitchen knife that will help tremendously in meal-prep in the rectory!