Feast Day: December 29
St. Thomas of Canterbury (1120-1170), also known as St. Thomas Becket, was an Englishman of minor Norman nobility who was the boon companion and Chancellor of King Henry II of England. Hungry for advancement and power, Thomas became close to the old Archbishop of Canterbury and was ordained Archdeacon. However, it was as the King’s Chancellor that Thomas excelled, becoming one of the most ruthlessly efficient enforcers of the King’s tax and revenue laws.
When the old Archbishop died, Henry hoped to checkmate the power of the wealthy Norman bishops and abbots by making his friend and right-hand man Thomas Becket the new Archbishop. To Henry’s everlasting regret and rage, Thomas underwent a startling spiritual transformation upon being ordained a bishop and instead of rubber-stamping the King’s laws to get more wealth from a weakened English Church, he became a staunch defender of Church rights, property and honor.
Thomas, although warned by the Pope to tread wisely, rigorously defended the Church and clergy against the State and soon was at odds with Henry. Threats, excommunications and more threats from all sides led to Thomas fleeing England for the continent. When he returned in 1170, he was murdered during evening Vespers in Canterbury Cathedral by four of Henry’s knights. Such was the outrage and devotion of the people to their beloved archbishop that Pope Alexander III canonized Thomas almost immediately.
The icon of St. Thomas of Canterbury is by Chicago artist Joseph Malham. He is dressed in the red vestments and miter that connote martyrdom, and on his shoulder he holds a heavy broadsword (the knights killed him with swords). There is a small nick in the sword that shows the ultimate failure of the temporal City of Man to overpower the eternal City of God. On his miter are seven blood red stones representing the Seven Sacraments, and on his chasuble are twelve stones representing the Twelve Apostles.
-From Joseph Malham's History of St. Thomas of Canterbury Church