Since this is Sunday, the solemnities of the Christmas Octave (Feast of the Holy Family in the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite; Sunday during the Octave in the Extraordinary Form) take precedence over the feast of St. Thomas a Becket, Henry II's Archbishop of Canterbury. Next year will be the 850th anniversary of his assassination in the Cathedral at Canterbury. The British Museum will open a special exhibit marking that anniversary in October of 2020:
Becket was one of the most powerful figures of his time, serving as royal Chancellor and later as Archbishop of Canterbury. Initially a close friend of King Henry II, the two men became engaged in a bitter dispute that culminated in Becket's shocking murder by knights with close ties to the king.
Marking the 850th anniversary of this dramatic crime, this major exhibition will present Becket's tumultuous journey from a London merchant's son to Archbishop, and from a revered saint in death to a 'traitor' in the eyes of Henry VIII, over 350 years later.
Get up close to the man, the murder and the legend through an incredible array of objects associated with Becket, including medieval stained glass, manuscripts, jewellery and sacred reliquaries. It will feature artefacts from the Museum's collection as well as important loans from other major collections from the UK and around the world.
As the Museum notes on its blog this year, that murder in that cathedral had a lasting impact:
Becket’s death and subsequent miracles transformed Canterbury Cathedral into one of the most important pilgrimage destinations in Europe. In 1220 his body was moved from the crypt to a glittering new shrine in a purpose-built chapel upstairs in the Cathedral. Geoffrey Chaucer famously captured something of the atmosphere of pilgrimage to this shrine in his Canterbury Tales. In death Becket remained a figure of opposition to unbridled power and became seen as the quintessential defender of the rights of the Church. To this end you can find images of his murder in churches across Latin Christendom, from Germany and Spain, to Italy and Norway. Becket was, and remains, a truly European saint. His relics at Canterbury were visited by people from across the continent until 1538, when Henry VIII would label him a traitor, order the destruction of his shrine and try to wipe him from history altogether. That, however, is a story for another time.
This exhibit is part of a bigger program of events next year in England, especially in Canterbury of course:
2020 marks an important dual anniversary for the extraordinary figure of Thomas Becket. It will be 850 years since his dramatic murder on the 29th December 1170 in Canterbury Cathedral, and 800 years since his body was moved on the 7th July 1220 from a tomb in the crypt of the cathedral into a glittering shrine. The events of 1220 were orchestrated to relaunch the cult of Becket, and ensured that Canterbury became the principal pilgrimage destination in England and one of the major pilgrimage sites within Europe.
Becket2020 is a programme of events developed by partners from across the UK, a platform to commemorate the remarkable life and death of Thomas Becket.
In the meantime, today while I'm celebrating the Solemnity of the Holy Family (and listening to Berlioz's L'Enfance du Christ), I'll also remember St. Thomas a Becket (listening to the Unfinished Vespers of December 29, 1170, interrupted by the four knights).
St. Thomas a Becket, pray for us!