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Why wouldn't Thomas Becket leave the cathedral?


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Answered 2010-06-15 18:57:51

We cannot know for sure why Thomas Becket refused to leave the cathedral with the knights who came to get him. But from what I have read of Thomas Becket, I would guess it was because he was praying, and he was not about to stop praying just because four knights were threatening him with swords. The statements we get from the time indicate, in fact, that when they first struck him with the swords, wounding him, he continued praying.

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Thomas Becket was the Archbishop of Canterbury and personal friend of King Henry II who was murdered for refusing to follow the king's orders. He was canonized as a saint and the cathedral where he died became a place of pilgrimage for Christians to leave valuables and pray for illness to leave them.


Thomas Becket was the Archbishop of Canterbury. At the same time, King Henry II, who had been Becket's close friend, was trying to increase his own power at the expense of the Church. Becket resisted this and was assassinated in the cathedral during Vespers. Four knights had tried to get him to leave with them, and when he refused, they attacked him with their swords, while he continued to say his prayers. As a result of these acts, King Henry was humiliated and the power of the Church was significantly increased. Becket was a martyr, and the Church soon declared him to be a saint. Pilgrims went to Canterbury to visit the shrine of a saint to had stood up to a king, and this also diminished the stature of the monarchy for centuries, until the Church in England was pretty much overwhelmed by King Henry VIII.


Thomas Becket fled to France in 1164, two years after becoming Archbishop. A temporary restoration of the relationship took place at Fretteville in northern France in July 1170, then another argument broke them apart again and Becket remained in exile. With the king's permission Becket returned to English soil on 1 December 1170, landing at the port of Sandwich in Kent. One result of this long exile on French territory is that many of the ecclesiastic garments worn there by the Archbishop have been kept and preserved in France.


Thomas Becket was making his way slowly towards the High Altar, or perhaps towards St Augustine's Chair in which he had been consecrated Archbishop some 8 years earlier. The Archbishop knew he was being followed by his attackers and he knew he was about to be killed. He calmly reached the transept containing the altar of St Benedict where the knights and the clergyman with them attempted to drag him from the cathedral, but he simply said: "I will not leave; here shall you work your will and obey your orders." The knights then struck him several times with their swords (some accounts say there were four strokes to his head) and he fell first to his knees and then onto his face, his hands stretched out and joined as if praying. In this position he died, the top of his skull cut off.


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Archbishop Thomas Becket left England (not the UK, which did not exist until much later) in October 1164; he departed from the port of Sandwich in Kent and went to Flanders. From there he went to the pope at Sens in France in 1165 and then to the Cistercian Abbey at Pontigny. At the end of 1166 he returned to SEns where the king of France paid all his expenses for the next 4 years.


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