Last Thursday I went to see the excellent exhibition on Thomas Becket at The British Museum. I loved the wonderful Baptismal font from Sweden on which were carved the martyrdom of St Thomas as well as images of Christ baptism. For me a highlight was the display were some of the miracle windows that surround the Trinity Chapel with a very helpful explanation of the scenes depicted. Immediately after his killing, the monks moped up the blood and with blood mixed with water was used by those who were sick and many healings occurred. Because of the many healing attributed to Thomas that he was declared saint three years later and his cult became one of the most widely celebrated in the Middle Ages.
It was only twenty years after his martyrdom his body was moved with great ceremony from the crypt to a new shrine in the Cathedral’s Trinity Chapel. As one of the displays at the exhibition says: the ritual, called “The translation:” was masterminded by Stephen Langton, the Archbishop of Canterbury. On display was a seal of Stephen Langton on which was depicted in miniature detail the tiny sword point and a skull fragment falling to the floor. The Latin reads “May the death portrayed without be for you a life of love within”. The translation ceremony of 1220 apparently was a glorious spectacle attended by the boy king Henry III of England and representatives of the European elite. No expense was spared for the celebrations. Canterbury’s fountains flowed with wine and the feasting lasted for days. On display at the exhibition was a picture of a manuscript containing a new liturgy for the service that was composed by Stephen Langton himself. There is a picture of Archbishop Stephen blessing the body of St Thomas taken from the Stowe breviary.
Last year was the 800 anniversary of this translation of his body and the 850 anniversary of St Thomas martyrdom. Obviously because of the pandemic the events planned by the Cathedral and ourselves didn’t happen. This year, 801 years later, we have been given permission by the Dean and Cathedral Chapter to celebrate the feast of the translation with Mass Our Archbishop, John Wilson, has very kindly agreed to be principal celebrant and preach. There will be a restricted number allowed to attend, so that we are able to observe the proper social distancing and celebrate safely. I do hope that some of you will be able to attend the Mass on Tuesday 7th July at 7:30pm. You will need a ticket that you can get through our website.
What has St Thomas of Canterbury to say to you and me today? He was willing to give up his position of power and prestige for the truth. As Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the retired bishop of Washington wrote
“He and all martyrs today declare to the world that Christian faith is worth the price, no matter how high. We must make it our mission to live in communion with them, to reecho their testimony to all the world, standing in solidarity with those who are suffering today. In this, they and we are not alone. We stand with the whole Church on earth and with the saints and angels in heaven, one people in Christ.”