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SHRINES OF PRELATES AND PRIESTS
the changed times
the laws there cannot be precisely the same contention in these days,
principles exist. He combated the
violation of the constitutions of the country, and was properly
martyr of national liberty. His cause
the events of
his martyrdom to the reign of Henry VIII.—this saint’s influence was so
that when that monarch determined to arrogate to himself the supreme
authority he felt it necessary to break the spell of devotion to the
of the spiritualities before he could be successful.
So long as the
heavenly throne, as his unflinching boldness had obtained their rights at the earthly court—were burnt and scattered.
Thomas was one of the most thrilling events in the history of
It was the hour
of evensong when
The body of the murdered man lay for some time deserted by all, but towards Osbert, the archbishop’s chamberlain, crept into the church and tore off a strip of his surplice to cover the mutilated head. Finding it safe to enter, the monks, with loud lamentations, collected the scattered brains and placed the body on a bier in front of the high altar, with vessels beneath to receive the blood still dropping from the wound. Round the site of the murder they placed some movable benches to keep off the crowd of townsmen, who were tearing off pieces of their garments and dipping them in the blood.
On the following morning the monks received a message from Robert de Broc, one of the assassins, forbidding them to bury the body among the tombs of the archbishops, and threatened that if they did so he would drag it out, hang it on a gibbet, tear it with horses, cut it to pieces, or throw it out to be devoured by swine. The monks hurriedly closed the doors, and carried the body to the crypt, where thy had determined to give it burial.
religious habit, and linen hose they put those vestments in which he
consecrated, and which had been preserved by him for this purpose, and laid him in a new marble coffin in the old crypt behind the chapel of Our Lady Undercroft, between the altars of St. Augustine and St. John the Baptist.
remained closed until
the 2nd of April, when the public were admitted and miracles were
reported. This roused the anger of De
Broc, who threatened to deprive them of their treasure.
To avoid this the
frightened monks hastily removed the body into a wooden coffin, which they hid and watched through the night ; but the next day they replaced it and built walls of massive stone around the sarcophagus, leaving two oval openings through which pilgrims might touch the tomb. The remains of the brains and blood were placed in vessels on the top of the tomb.
this first shrine of
of which King Henry thrust his head and shoulders when he received the scourge in penance—the green vessel containing the brains, a taper in a candlestick and a trundle, or votive offering of a coil of wax.
penance King Henry
offered at this tomb four marks of pure gold and a silk hanging to
adorn it ;
also £40 annually for lights to be
kept burning around the shrine. Louis
VII., the first French king to set foot on this island, came to implore
This portion of the crypt would probably have remained the most important part of the church but for the fire of 1174. A more gorgeous monument was contemplated at this place, but the fire altered the plans of the monks and presented the opportunity for greater magnificence in the design.
in the transept
was considered the most sacred spot, and in 1172 a piece of the stone
pavement on which St. Thomas was martyred—and said to be stained with
blood—was sent to Pope Alexander III. and deposited in the church of
the following year Thomas à Becket was
canonised—two years and three months after his death, one of the
periods between death and canonisation on record—but he was already
in the minds of the English people. In
his bull of canonisation Pope Alexander bade the chapter, as soon as
to place the relics with great solemnity in some fitting shrine, and
contributed two columns of pinkish marble from the ruins of ancient
used for that immediate purpose, but still form part of the surrounding arcade.
As soon as the cathedral church was deconsecrated after the sacrilege, a lowly wooden altar was raised close to the
scene of the
murder. It was called the “Altar of the
and the “Altar of the Sword’s Point,” for upon it was a tabernacle
the point of Le Breton’s sword which had snapped off as it came in
the pavement after
giving the fatal blow. Upon this casket,
under a piece of rock crystal, was preserved a portion of the martyr’s
brains. This was one of the minor
after the fire,
rebuilding and enlargement commenced. The
chapel of the Blessed Trinity was made of ample
dimensions for the
shrine, and eastward of that was a circular chapel—which some have
be the actual
During this time the tomb in the crypt was protected by woodwork, and the site of the new shine in the church above was almost directly over the crypt tomb.
All things were
now ready, and
On the evening
of the 6th the
archbishop, the bishop of
assembly as then congregated
had never before gathered together in
tapers. All the bishops of
During Mass the feretory rested beneath a canopy of cloth of gold, before an altar erected for the occasion in front of the choir screen, in sight of all the people ; and it was afterwards deposited in the shrine prepared for it.
position of the
chapel containing the shine is unrivalled in
Of the shrine nothing remains save the traces in the pavement, yet it is not difficult to realise its form and beauty from two representation which are extant ; one in a thirteenth-century window on the north side of Trinity Chapel, and the other in a manuscript,2 which was partially destroyed by fire in 1730. These, in addition to the description left by Erasumus3 and others, leave little doubt as to its appearance.
The shrine of
The lower part
of the shrine was
of stone with recesses all round, into which ailing pilgrims pressed
diseased limb, the nearest contact possible to the healing body of the
saint. Above this was a wooden box-like
structure or case suspended by a rope to a pulley in the roof by which
drawn up or lowered. When raised it
to view the feretory containing the relics, to the accompaniment of the
of silver bells attached to the canopy, which the act of moving set
the same way as at St. Cuthbert’s shrine. Then
was seen a magnificent sight. The feretory
was covered with gold plates, and over it was
a gold wire
netting on which was fastened a wealth of jewels. Albert,
he believed there was not in the whole world another shrine for value of beauty like that of St. Thomas of Canterbury.
left by a
Venetian pilgrim about the year 1500 portrays the magnificence of this
“The tomb of
disputes between the
archbishops of Canterbury and York as to the right of one to bear his
the province of the other assisted in the enrichment of this shrine ;
1354 a compromise was made, by which the metropolitan of York might
cross borne erect before him throughout the southern province on
he bought the privilege within two months of his consecration by
golden image of the value of forty pounds to the shrine of St. Thomas,
image was to represent an archbishop bearing a
cross. Under this
Archbishop Booth of
The oft-mentioned jewel given by the King of France and called a ruby by the Venetian pilgrim, is described by the Bohemian Ambassador, in 1446, as “a carbuncle that shines at night, half the size of a hen’s egg” ; but it was described as a diamond when it came unto the possession of Queen Mary in 1554. This gem, the “Regale of France,” was too well known to be confused with any other jewel, and it was probably owning to the prismatic colours given forth from this exceptional diamond in the gloom of the chapel that we have these discrepancies in name. When fastened to the new shrine the figure of an angel was made in gold, pointing to the stone to attract special attention.
The custodian with a white wand pointed out to the pilgrims the several jewels, naming the donors and mentioning the history or virtue of each.
On the top ridge of the feretory were three finials of silver gilt—evidently the cresting which cost £7 10s. in 1314—the centre one larger than the other two, and against them, in the Cottonian drawing, the weight of each is given, the center one eighty ounces and the others sixty ounces each. Whether these finials were on the feretory or the canopy is doubtful. In the painted glass only two appear on the shrine, and it is probable that although on the feretory, the canopy was made with apertures through which the finials appeared when it was lowered ; or it may be by a stretch of imagination that the delineator has exposed these features which were enclosed by the canopy shown in his drawing.
The feretory, as represented in the window (which glass is but a few years later than the erection of the shrine), may reasonably be taken as a faithful picture, though the stone substructure in the Cotton. MS. is evidently depicted aright (allowing for bad drawing), for the architecture in the glass is altogether fanciful.
Beneath the shrine in the MS. drawing is the chest containing the relics—the same chest in which they were deposited in 1220—and an inscription to the following effect :—
“This chest of iron contained the bones of Thomas Becket, skull and all, with the wounde of his death and the pece cut out of his skull laid in the same wounde.”4
In the State
Papers is a letter
of William Penison to Cromwell, describing the visit of the lady of
“By ten of the cloc, she, her gentilwomen, and said ambassadour whent to the church, where I showed her Saincte Thomas shryne, and all such other things worthy of sight ; at the which she was not litle marveilled of the greate riches therof, saing it to be innumerable, and that if she had not seen it, all the men in the wourlde could never a made her to belyve it. Thus over looking and vewing more than an owre, as well the shryne as Saint Thomas hed, being at both sett cousshins to knyle, and the Pryour openyng Sainct Thomas hed, saying to her 3 tymes, ‘This is Saint Thomas hed,’ and offered her to kysse ; but she nother knyled, nor would kysse it, but still vewing the riches therof.”
In the treasury accounts for 1207—before the translation—are the amounts derived from the offerings made to the various objects associated with the passion of St. Thomas :—
From the tomb of S.
Thomas . . .
. . . . . .£320 0 0
The year after
the translation of
the receipts show a great increase :—
From the Crown, which have been spent on the
shrine. £71 10
and so on, contributing towards the completion of that shrine which was the work of that incomparable officer, Walter de Colchester, Sacrist of St. Albans, assisted by Elias de Dereham, Canon of Salisbury.5
There were four
where the saint was venerated in the cathedral, each of which had its
or guardian, as is seen in a Book of Accounts for 1451 preserved in the
Library, where the receipts from each of the guardians went into the
From the Guardian of
the Crown of
S. Thomas . . . .
Here we have the Martyrdom, the Tomb in the crypt, the Shrine, and the Crown.
In the will of the Black Prince, 1376, he bequeaths hangings “for the altar where my lord S. Thomas lies, for the altar where the head is, and for the altar where the point of the sword is,” which were of black, embroidered with white ostrich feathers, and red borders ornamented with swans having ladies’ heads. Similar bequests are made to the same places in many other royal wills, but they did not decide where the head or the crown were, or whether they were one or two distinct objects.
writers contend that
the easternmost portion of the new work of the cathedral was called “The
From Erasmus we learn that in the crypt was exhibited the perforated skull of the martyr, the forehead is left bare to be kissed, whilst the other parts are covered with silver. This was one head reliquary ; but in the account of the visit of the Lady of Montreuil the prior, opening S. Thomas Head, offered it for her to kiss, so that it was evidently a different reliquary from that of the skull in the crypt where the forehead was left bare—it was “Becket’s Crown.”
went into the chapel
at the extreme east end, where he was shown the whole face,
“tota facies,” of St. Thomas, gilt, and adorned with
many jewels, and speaking of the officer who had shown it to him, calls
“the attendant on the holy head.” This
be a sufficient answer to Professor Willis, who thought it meant a full-length image of
The first known
notice of the
“Head of St. Thomas” is a memorandum in the Royal Wardrobe
Accounts for April 18th, 1303, of the royal offerings
At the Shrine of S.
Martyr, one brooch of gold.
There is an
entry in the Registers
of Prior Henry de Eastry in 1314 : “For ornamenting the crown of
This again is decisive ; the head reliquaries were largely used at this time, and the Church has always regarded with special reverence that part in which a martyr suffered, which would account for the lavish use of most precious things in adorning the shrine of that part—things which would scarcely be used in the decoration of the walls of a chapel.
unless it contained
something very precious, would not have a special guardian, and if that
treasure was no more than a golden image, the pilgrims would reserve
for something more sacred. Besides,
consider the opportunity given the monks to build up to
The head reliquary of the crown was so richly adorned that it came to be known as the Golden Head. In the chapel of “Becket’s Crown” are no traces of an altar, but in the raised pavement at the extreme east end are indications that there were formerly some railings so arranged as to protect some object of veneration.
inscription is the only obstacle to contend against, yet even this is
to unravel. Nothing is more likely than that in the
century the Church would be robbed of the smaller reliquaries before
of the great shrines : the crown might possibly be transferred to the
relics together with the skull from the crypt for greater safety, for
could possibly have anticipated such action as was taken.
Here, again, the wording in the Cotton. MS.
must not be taken too literally, as the skull could not be perfect
Roger, the warden of St. Mary’s altar, was offered the abbacy of
month of September the
Royal Commission for the destruction of shrines, under Dr. John Layton
and a strong
military guard, arrived at
Proclamation followed on
November 16th stating that :—
“Forasmuch as it now clearly appeared that Thomas Becket had been killed in a riot excited by his own obstinacy and intemperate language, and had been afterwards canonised by the Bishop of Rome as the champion of his usurped authority, the King’s Majesty thought it expedient to declare to his loving subjects that he was no saint, but rather a rebel and traitor to his prince. Therefore his Grace straitly chargeth and commandeth that hence forth the said Thomas Becket shall not be esteemed, named, reputed nor called saint, but ‘Bishop Becket,’ and that his images and pictures through the whole realm shall be put down and avoided out of all churches and chapels, and other places ; and that from henceforth the days used to be festivals in his name shall not be observed, nor any service, office antiphones, collects, and prayers in his name read, but erased and put out of all books.”
of the severe
penalties attached to this decree, it was so rigorously carried out
calendar containing the name of
The cult of
In the Bull Cum Redemptor issued by Pope Paul III., December 17th,
against Henry VIII., the violation of the shrine is specially noticed :—
“After he (Henry VIII.) had, for the greater contempt of religion, summoned St. Thomas, the Archbishop of Canterbury, into court, and caused him to be condemned as contumacious, and to be declared a traitor, he was ordered his bones,
which in the realm of
Doubt has been
thrown upon the
proceedings of the king’s commissioners, and the burning of the bones
denied. Against the statements of
sweeping decrees and
indefatigable search for their destruction. Not
least among these survivals are the reliquaries upon
which his martyrdom
is portrayed. Whether they contained
8 ½ inches in height,
is 7 inches long and 3 ½ inches broad. It
was made of oak, with a high-pitched roof, and the back
hinges. This casket is covered with
plates of copper, gilded and enameled in the style of the
On this side of the roof is the entombment, where the body, swathed in a diapered winding-sheet, is being placed in a high tomb. The officiating prelate, his attendance, and the two thruifers are all nimbed [portrayed with a nimbus].
The back of the shrine is decorated with quatrefoils, and the two gable ends are occupied with a male and female saint respectively.
The borders are of gold and enamels, the latter being of blue, light blue, green, yellow, red, chocolate, and white.
The cresting of the shrine is of copper, pierced with eight keyhole-shaped openings. The wood of the interior
is stained with
conjectured to be blood, and on the side is a cross pattée
fitchée painted in red, which is supposed to be a
mark that the relics enshrined were those of a martyr.
It is by a curious evolution of circumstance that a shrine of an English archbishop yet remains, glorious
from its sacred contents, beautiful in its workmanship, and exalted to a place of the highest honour ; but it is only though those circumstances, which caused the exile of the archbishop, that it is so, for if England had been the proud possessor of the relics of St. Edmund up to the sixteenth century, at that period they would have been desecrated.
It is curious, again, that the archbishop should have been canonised by the pope, seeing that his exile was mainly due to his anti-papal protests when he thought that power detrimental to the national welfare.
St. Edmund of
Anguish at his
own inability to
rescue the Church of England from its perilous state was the cause of
death, which occurred at Soissy,
The miracles attributed to St. Edmund were so numerous that, six years after his death, Pope Innocent IV. canonised him, “for he feared lest the said saint should punish him
for neglecting to his canonisation, which he had but off day after day, owing to the whispers of slanderers.”6
year the relics of
St. Edmund were translated with extraordinary pomp to a shine above the
altar, and the account of the function by the saint’s friend and
“That you may be better informed of the elevation and present state of the body of St. Edmund, be it known unto you that on the morrow of the Holy Trinity last past, when the tomb of our holy father Edmund was first opened in the evening before a few persons only who were present, we found the body fragrant with a very sweet odour, and in a full and perfect condition. The head was still covered with hair, and the face shining, and the body with the other members sound in all its parts, and odoriferous beyond balm or incense. The nose, however, had suffered injury by pressure from the upper stone, but was not decayed ; and deservedly so, for whoever examines into his life more fully, will see that it is a sin to have doubts of his virginity. The whole body, and especially the face, as found as it were steeped in oil ; which we believe signified the grace as well of his morals also of his doctrine, for there was a grace diffused over his lips, in reading, disputing, and preaching ; God had anointed him with the oil of gladness above all other readers, teachers, and disputants of his time ; wherefore there was grace diffused over his lips. We shall find in the same some other marks also of virtues, which we will relate to you in secret when the opportunity of a favourable time shall arise, too long to allow of my now setting time down in writing. But as touching those which have been mentioned, your discretion may not entertain a doubt, for we speak and write what we know, and testify what we have seen. With our own hands we handled his holy body, and with diligence and reverence combed and arranged his head, with the hairs strong and unharmed. But on the Sunday next before the
feast of St. Barnabas, in presence of our lord and king of France, with his mother and the counts his brothers, and many nobles besides, moreover two cardinals, to wit, the bishop of Albano, and the legate of France, with the archbishops, bishops, abbots, priors, and other venerable prelates, and many others aiding, whose number we could not learn, at Pontigny, by the divine will, with unspeakable exultation and glory, and with magnificent thanksgivings to God, was celebrated the translation our most blessed father St. Edmund, archbishop of Canterbury and confessor, to the no small augmentation of the honour of our nation.”
King Louis of
When these things became known to Earl Richard in England, he expressed regret that his brother the King of England and himself had not been present at so glorious and solemn a translation, “for he was our saint by birth, education, and promotion, although owing to our sins he withdrew from England,” and he undertook to defray the cost of a fourth part, or the front, of the shrine.
The abbey was
church burnt, and the tombs broken open by the Huguenots in 1567 ; then
were the destructive acts of the Revolution, but the relics of St.
preserved through these vicissitudes and again enshrined.
High above the altar, upheld by the hands of
angels, is the golden coffer containing the body of our archbishop. A staircase at the back leads the pilgrim to
a level with the shrine, which on that side is of glass, though which
relics are seen. The shrine, with the
altar and canopy dates from the beginning of the eighteenth century,
and is of
good workmanship of that period.
1. This seems,
however, to be a
modern fable, originating in A. D.
-end chapter four, part four-
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