Sticky Top Post

Howdy. We've moved from Cayce, but St. Elizabeth of South Rose Hill or Lizette de Waccamaw de Sud just don't do it for me.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Not just evil, but Lousy, too

Gratuitous grossness alert:

Appropriate to the Memorial of St. Thomas a' Becket today, Open Book points readers to an article in The Independent Online in which the Saint is chosen as one of the most evil Britons of the last millenium--worst Briton of the 12th century.

From the "Nomination"

As the patron saint of Roman Catholic secular clergy, Becket is nominated for the divisions he caused England. These seemed unlikely when the previously carefree and pleasure-loving courtier Becket became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1162. Yet once in office he became an ascetic prelate, devoted to the ecclesiastical hierarchy. In the schism which at that time divided the church, Becket sided with Pope Alexander II, who was devoted to the same strict hierarchical principles and, to the dismay of Henry II, sought to exempt the church from all civil jurisdiction and secure unfettered control for the clergy. After returning from exile, he excommunicated the bishops who had crowned the king and an enraged Henry uttered his fateful plea to be rid of Becket. His subsequent murder brought Becket everlasting revenge on Henry. He was canonised and credited with martyrdom. A shrine to him remains at Canterbury.

[Digressive Comment:

Really? Worse than King Stephen, whose name no subseqent British monarch has taken? Stephen, about whom the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles read:

"And so it lasted for nineteen years while Stephen was King, ...for the land was all laid waste by such deeds; and they said openly, that Christ slept, and his saints. Such things, and more than we can say, suffered we nineteen winters for our sins." Really?]

Back to the Topic:

I thought I'd add a bit about our Saint's funeral, of course from Rats, Lice and History. Quoting another historian, Zinsser writes:

MacArthur's story of Thomas a Becket's funeral illustrates [this]: -- The archbishop was murdered in Canterbury Cathedral on the evening of the twenty-ninth of December. The body lay in the Cathedral all night, and was prepared for burial on the following day... He had on a large brown mantle; under it, a white surplice; below that, a lamb's-wool coat; then another woolen coat; and a third woolen coat below this; under this, there was the black, cowled robe of the Benedictine Order; under this, a shirt; and next to the body a curious hair-cloth, covered with linen. As the body grew cold, the vermin that were living in this multiple covering started to crawl out, and, as MacArthur quotes the chronicler: 'The vermin boiled over like water in a simmering cauldron, and the onlookers burst into alternate weeping and laughter.'

I'm counting 8 or 9 layers, depending on the constuction of the linen-covered hair cloth.

Back to Becket being evil..

I think he gets an unfair rap about being inflexible on reform. He signalled clearly to King Henry 2 (father of King Richard the Lion-Heart and of King John--another king whose name is unlikely to be repeated) that his loyalties would have to be with his new master (God/Pope, etc.,) and no longer with the Henry Plantagenet (Henry 2's given name) and the King's preferences once he was consecrated as Archbishop.

I know your plans for the Church," he said, "you will assert claims which I, if I were archbishop, must needs oppose.

So, was Becket evil/bad? Nope, at least IMHO. Was he Lousy? Well, yes.

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