Saturday, December 29, 2007

St Thomas of Canterbury

Today is the feast of St Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury and Martyr. The good old Catholic Encyclopædia has an extensive biography here.

"He suffered on this day, who was Primate and Legate, in the Church and on behalf of the Church, about the our of the evening prayer, while the choir of monks sang psalms round about, and the clergy and the company of the people stood by, and while reigned our Lord Jesu Christ to Whom be honour for ever and ever. Amen."
-William the Monk

Then, even on that day, the miracles began.

It was an uncritical age; that is to say, it was a time when men thought it natural that a God who had made the world and sustained it by His Power should shew that Power round the lives and deaths of His greatest servants. I do not say that everyone of the five hundred marvels attributed to St Thomas' intercession was inevitably a miracle; but I do say, with my whole heart, that many of them were, and that they were in accordance with what our Lord Himself promised as to the signs that should follow them that believe.

For example: on the same night a paralytic woman, drinking a little water in which a dried drop of two of the martyr's blood had been dissolved , was restored to health. A day or two later a blind woman who invoked his name received her sight. On the Saturday a girl of sixteen, living Gloucester, was cured of a disease of eleven years' standing, upon her mother's making a vow to visit the shrine of the Saint.

And so the miracles went on. The Christian world went wild with enthusiasm, as is proper when a saint goes to God by the road of blood. Faith was kindled, and God rewarded it according to His promise. Devotions sprang up; pilgrimages began; men returned from Canterbury bearing little leaden phials filled with “St Thomas' water” -- that is, water in which a minute drop of the holy blood had been mixed; and the shrine of Canterbury began to take its place with the great centres of the world's devotion – with Rome, Jerusalem, and Compostella. Still the fame increased. Even Gilbert of London, once his friend and lately his enemy, was healed of disease by a drop or two of “Thomas' water”' as Henry himself, a little later, when his sons rebelled against him gained the upper hand, as he himself confesses, through the intercession of the Saint whom he had done to death. On the Continent altars were dedicated in his honour; and particularly worthy of notice is one little chapel in Notre Dame de Fourvieres at Lyons which the Saint himself, years, before, had been asked to consecrate. He had consecrated the rest of the church, but, upon being asked to name the saint for this chapel, had refused saying it must be kept for the honour of the next martyr that should die. That honour was his own, and the chapel was dedicated to himself. Again, in England especially, there now began, and continued for many centuries, the custom of choosing Tuesdays for the saying of votive masses of St Thomas, since it was on Tuesday that his first and second Birthdays fell – that on which he came into the world, and that on which he went to God; it was on Tuesday that he faced Henry at Northampton, and landed again in England after his six years' exile. And it was almost immediately after his death that he began to be considered the Patron of Secular Clergy, since he was one himself, and it was for their rights that he lived and died – a position which he now holds by the authority of the Supreme Pontiff.

. . . . . . . . .

Of those who were the Saint's especial friends other strange stories are told. For almost a year after the martyrdom the arm of Edward Grim, wounded in the Martyr's defence, remained unhealed. Then one night, in dream or vision, Thomas stood by him, and, taking his arm, wrapped it in a linen cloth, wet with the famous “water”.
“Go, you are healed!” said the apparition.
“And this is the arm itself,” writes Grim, “the hand of which has written these things for you to read.”
--The Holy, Blissful Martyr, St Thomas a Becket, by Msgr Robert Hugh Benson