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Shrine to Saint Thomas Becket

Bob Culshaw

Westgate on Sea, United Kingdom

Artist's Description

A 6 frame panorama image of this shrine at Canterbury Cathedral, Kent, England. Shot in RAW, bracketed -2,0,+2 EV’s (18 images) and tonemapped in Photomatix Pro for HDR affect. Stitched in Autopano Pro.
Canon 400D, Canon EF-S 17-85mm IS USM Lens @ 24mm, ISO 400, f11. Tripod used with Nodal Ninja NN3 MK II Panoramic VR Tripod Head Kit.
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Thomas Becket (1118 – 29 December 1170), later also known as Thomas à Becket, was Archbishop of Canterbury from 1162 to his death. He is venerated as a saint and martyr by both the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion. He engaged in conflict with Henry II of England over the rights and privileges of the Church and was assassinated by followers of the king in Canterbury Cathedral.
In June 1170, the archbishop of York and the bishops of London and Salisbury held the coronation of Henry the Young King in York. This was a breach of Canterbury’s privilege of coronation. In November 1170, Becket excommunicated all three. While the three bishops fled to the king in Normandy, Becket continued to excommunicate his opponents in the church. Soon word of this reached Henry.
After these reports of Becket’s activities, Henry is said to have raised his head from his sickbed and roared a lament of frustration. The King’s exact words are in doubt, and several versions have been reported. The most commonly quoted, as handed down by “oral tradition”, is “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?”, but according to historian Simon Schama this is incorrect: he accepts the account of the contemporary biographer Edward Grim, writing in Latin, who gives us “What miserable drones and traitors have I nourished and brought up in my household, who let their lord be treated with such shameful contempt by a low-born cleric?” Many variations have found their way into popular culture. Whatever the King said, it was interpreted as a royal command, and four knights, Reginald FitzUrse, Hugh de Moreville, William de Tracy, and Richard le Breton, set out to confront the Archbishop of Canterbury. On 29 December 1170 they arrived at Canterbury. According to accounts left by the monk Gervase of Canterbury and eyewitness Edward Grim, they placed their weapons under a sycamore tree outside the cathedral and hid their mail armour under cloaks before entering to challenge Becket. The knights informed Becket he was to go to Winchester to give an account of his actions, but Becket refused. It was not until Becket refused their demands to submit to the king’s will that they retrieved their weapons and rushed back inside for the killing. Becket, meanwhile, proceeded to the main hall for vespers. The four knights, carrying naked swords, caught up with him in a spot near a door to the monastic cloister, the stairs into the crypt, and the stairs leading up into the quire of the cathedral, where the monks were chanting vespers. Several contemporary accounts of what happened next exist; of particular note is that of Edward Grim, who was himself wounded in the attack.
This is part of the account from Edward Grim:

…The wicked knight leapt suddenly upon him, cutting off the top of the crown which the unction of sacred chrism had dedicated to God. Next he received a second blow on the head, but still he stood firm and immovable. At the third blow he fell on his knees and elbows, offering himself a living sacrifice, and saying in a low voice, ‘For the name of Jesus and the protection of the Church, I am ready to embrace death.’ But the third knight inflicted a terrible wound as he lay prostrate. By this stroke, the crown of his head was separated from the head in such a way that the blood white with the brain, and the brain no less red from the blood, dyed the floor of the cathedral. The same clerk who had entered with the knights placed his foot on the neck of the holy priest and precious martyr, and, horrible to relate, scattered the brains and blood about the pavements, crying to the others, ‘Let us away, knights; this fellow will arise no more.’

Following his death, the monks prepared his body for burial. According to some accounts, it was discovered that Becket had worn a hairshirt under his archbishop’s garments—a sign of penance. Soon after, the faithful throughout Europe began venerating Becket as a martyr, and in 1173 — barely three years after his death — he was canonised by Pope Alexander III in St. Peter’s Church in Segni. On 12 July 1174, in the midst of the Revolt of 1173–1174, Henry humbled himself with public penance at Becket’s tomb, which became one of the most popular pilgrimage sites in England.
Becket’s assassins fled north to Knaresborough Castle, which was held by Hugh de Morville, where they remained for about a year. De Morville held property in Cumbria and this may also have provided a convenient bolt-hole, as the men prepared for a temporary stay in the separate kingdom of Scotland. They were not arrested and neither did Henry confiscate their lands, but he failed to help them when they sought his advice in August 1171. Pope Alexander excommunicated all four. Seeking forgiveness, the assassins travelled to Rome and were ordered by the Pope to serve as knights in the Holy Lands for a period of 14 years.
In 1220, Becket’s remains were relocated from this first tomb to a shrine in the recently completed Trinity Chapel where it stood until it was destroyed in 1538, around the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries, on orders from King Henry VIII. The king also destroyed Becket’s bones and ordered that all mention of his name be obliterated. The pavement where the shrine stood is today marked by a lit candle. Modern day archbishops celebrate the Eucharist at this place to commemorate Becket’s martyrdom and the translation of his body from his first burial place to the new shrine.
(Source: Wikipedia)

: C18GN-WL734-3AHLN


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