St. Thomas Becket’s Martyrdom – The Unfinished Vespers of 29 December 1170

“For the Name of Jesus and the protection of the Church I am ready to embrace death.”  These words, according to an eye-witness account, were spoken by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket, as he was hacked to death near the altar of his cathedral on December 29, 1170.  His crime?  He chose to support the rights of the Church, and thus the reign of Christ the King, over his earthly King, and former friend, Henry II.

Frustrated that Becket wouldn’t concede to his demands, which would have eroded the rights of the Church, King Henry is said to have uttered “What sluggards, what cowards have I brought up in my court, who care nothing for their allegiance to their lord. Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest.”  Four knights who heard this traveled from France to Canterbury to carry out what they took to be the king’s command.  They arrived and hid their swords under a tree outside the cathedral, then went inside and tried to get the bishop to come with them.  When he refused, they retrieved their swords and hacked him to death, splitting off part of his skull, as he was walking to the choir for vespers, which was already underway.

Here is an eye-witness account from Edwin Grim, one of the monks, who was hiding near the altar during the murder: Continue reading