BRITAIN – The Vatican is putting together the final arrangements to loan Saint Thomas Becket’s bloodstained tunic to Britain. Canterbury Cathedral is celebrating the 850th anniversary of the saint’s death and the 800th anniversary of the opening of the saint’s shrine in 2020.
Thomas was close friends with King Henry II, serving as his chancellor. Thomas influenced some of the reforms that Henry put in place throughout the kingdom. The future saint also negotiated the royal marriage.
When the Archbishop of Canterbury died, Henry resolved to ask Thomas to fill the position. Thomas knew that the appointment could cause strife between the two friends.
“Should God permit me to be the archbishop of Canterbury, I would soon lose your Majesty’s favor, and the affection with which you honor me would be changed into hatred. For there are several things you do now in prejudice of the rights of the Church which make me fear you would require of me what I could not agree to; and envious persons would not fail to make it the occasion of endless strife between us,” he warned Henry.
But Henry paid no heed and Thomas was elected Archbishop of Canterbury in 1162. It wasn’t long before the relationship between Church and State in England started to cause a riff between the two old friends, just like Thomas predicted.
Enraged over Thomas’s defiance regarding whether the crown or the church should have more authority, Henry reportedly said, “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest.”
Four knights took the king’s words to heart and killed Thomas in the cathedral. Pope Alexander III canonized Thomas, and the martyrdom site drew thousands of pilgrims until it was destroyed by King Henry VIII in 1538.
In 2020, on the 850th anniversary of the saint’s martyrdom, Canterbury Cathedral will host many celebrations, including a joint service with Catholics and Anglicans. The Cathedral will also display artifacts of the saint’s life, hopefully including his bloodied robe.
The loan still needs the approval of Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, who previously loaned out the vestments seen at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.
“We are at the planning stage for our 2020 commemoration of Becket. It’s very exciting if the tunic comes from Rome,” Jane Walker, and spokeswoman for the Canterbury Cathedral told The Guardian.