Our Lady Immaculate & St Thomas of Canterbury
Mary is the greatest example for us of how to be open to the promptings of the Lord in our life. Her trust and abandonment to the will of God is a model for each and every one of us to follow in our daily life as we journey towards Heaven.
Mary is known by many titles including that of Mary Immaculate, Our Lady of Walsingham, and Our Lady of Lourdes to name but a few. But it is important for us to remember, however, that despite all these titles there is only one Mary and that all of these titles merely shed more light on her true identity and helps us to know her better and appreciate her role in being open to God’s plan to bring about our salvation.
The title of Mary Immaculate is a title which reminds us that Mary, in preparation for her being the mother of Jesus, was preserved by the grace of God from original sin from the moment of her conception. It was chosen for the Cathedral because it was a title that was officially recognised by the Pope in 1854 – only a few years after the establishment of the Diocese of Northampton in 1850.
Thomas Becket was born in Cheapside, London on 21st December circa 1120. His parents were Gilbert and Matilda Becket both of whom were of Norman extraction. Gilbert had been a merchant and was a property owner with established wealth by the time Becket was born.
The wealth of Becket’s parents enabled him to be well educated. He attended Merton Priory, a Grammar School in London. His student career was cut short by family crisis (mother’s death and a devastating fire) and he took a temporary job as assistant to a financier before gaining a position in a clerical household of Archbishop Theobald of Canterbury.
It is likely that Becket was already intended for a clerical career: his education, even though truncated, gave him the essential linguistic (Latin) and theological tools to enable him to enter a clerical career, and he may have been in minor orders when he was sent by the Archbishop abroad to study Canon Law.
Becket was a conscientious and dedicated student who was rewarded in 1154 when the Archbishop bestowed a number of ecclesiastical offices upon him including Archdeacon of Canterbury.
During 1154 he came to the notice of King Henry II and was recommended for the post of Lord Chancellor by the Archbishop. The King and Becket liked and respected each other from the outset. For the King, Becket was the obvious choice to be appointed Lord Chancellor when the role became vacant in January 1155. Becket became the King’s confidante and most trusted friend.
After Archbishop Theobald’s death in 1161 the King took the chance to promote his friend and ally as Archbishop of Canterbury believing that it would enable him to press ahead with reforms. Becket’s election as Archbishop was confirmed on 23rd May 1162. He was ordained a priest on 2nd June 1162 and consecrated as Archbishop the following day.
It soon became apparent that the views and aims of the King and the Archbishop were completely at odds with each other. Becket was no longer ‘the King’s man’. To the King’s fury, Becket resigned the Chancellorship and sought to re-claim the rights and traditions of the Church.
As part of his programme to increase royal control over the Church, the King forced Becket and the bishops to consent to unspecified ‘royal customs’ at Clarendon (January 1164), then caused the ‘Constitutions of Clarendon’ to be written down and presented for formal ratification. Realizing the danger to the Church, Becket accepted one copy, but refused his seal. Enraged, the King summoned Becket before a royal council, where he accused him of contempt of the crown and embezzlement.
During the trial at Northampton Castle (6-14 October 1164), Becket lodged in St. Andrew’s Priory, on whose land Northampton Cathedral was later built.
Although no evidence was presented and no defense allowed, Becket was condemned and fled for his life.
Under threat of papal interdict, the King and Becket were formally reconciled, without mention of the Constitutions. Becket returned to England on 1st December.
In a bid to reassert his authority Becket excommunicated Roger of York and others for the illicit coronation of the King’s eldest son.
Hearing of this, the King railed at his courtiers for allowing him to be insulted by such a ‘lowborn cleric’, and four knights hurried to seize Becket and bring him to the King in Normandy.
They reached Canterbury on 29th December 1170. When Becket resisted arrest, the fully armed knights pursued him into the Cathedral. Deliberately aiming at his head, they cut him to the ground, while Becket, expressing his willingness to die for the rights of the Church, said a final prayer.
This sacrilegious violation of a sacred place by the murder of a priest caused outrage across Europe. The murderers were excommunicated. The King accepted a public penance and made a penitential pilgrimage to Becket’s tomb on 12th July 1174.
Meanwhile, the cult of the new martyr developed rapidly in Canterbury, where ordinary people claimed to have been cured after praying to St. Thomas Becket. This evidence, presented by the monks, induced Pope Alexander III to canonise the new martyr on 21st February 1173, only two years after his death, and the English Martyr was venerated throughout Europe.
In commemoration of Becket’s association with Northampton, he was declared co—patron of Northampton Diocese when it was established in 1850.