Some take pride in chariots, and some in horses,
but our pride is in the name of the Lord our God.
They will collapse and fall,
but we shall rise and stand upright. — Psalm 20:7-8 [Here it is in song]
All about Thomas Becket (1118-1170)
The Fifth Day of Christmas is also a time to remember the faith of Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who was martyred for his defense of the rights of the church against the English king, Henry II.
Like yesterday’s Feast of the Holy Innocents, this day adds the somber foundation for Christmastide, since every incarnation of God’s grace has an opponent waiting to kill it.
The church and the burgeoning idea of the “state” vied for power in Europe as it emerged from centuries of reorganization after the fall of the Roman Empire. Periodically, a leader would have an actual debate about the theology of the matter with some kind of spiritual conviction instead of just managing his power in order to expand it.
Once Becket was made the leader of the English church, he surprised the king with his new set of convictions. Like the surprising Oscar Romero who stood up against U.S.-sponsored death squads and unjust government soldiers, Becket was murdered in his own church building.
Becket had more influence as a martyr than a leader. Within years, King Henry was making public penance at his very popular shrine and pilgrim destination.
Once a saint, Becket’s fame grew around the Norman world. He remains a peculiar, English phenomenon. As a member of the clan who were founders of the mercantile fraternity of Mercers, Becket was much lauded as a Londoner and adopted as the city’s co-patron saint with Paul the Apostle: they both appear on the seals of the city and of the Lord Mayor. The idea of drinking the “water of Saint Thomas,” sprang up, meaning one could buy a miraculous mix of water and the remains of the martyr’s blood. Here’s the story:
A citizen of Canterbury dipped a corner of his shirt in the blood [of Becket], went home, and gave it, mixed with water, to his wife, who was paralytic, and who was said to have been cured. This suggested the notion of mixing the blood with water, which, endlessly diluted, was kept in innumerable vials, to be distributed to the pilgrims; and thus, as the palm was a sign of a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and a scallop-shell of the pilgrimage to Compostela, so a leaden vial or bottle suspended from the neck became the mark of a pilgrimage to Canterbury. — Arthur P. Stanley, Historical Memorials of Canterbury
Local legends reflected Becket’s well-known gruffness. “Becket’s Well”, in Otford, Kent, was said to have been created after Becket was displeased by the taste of the local water. Two springs of clear water bubbled up after he struck the ground with his crozier. The pilgrims to Canterbury (Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales mentions Becket) grew greatly in number.
British Museum’s 2021 retrospective.
T.S. Eliot’s “Murder in the Cathedral” as a 1951 film
Scene from Becket (film, 1964)
It is not without merit that On the 5th day of Christmas my true love sent to me… Five Gold Rings.
For two centuries after the Reformation, the Catholic structure of the Church was repressed in England, especially. The legend has grown up that, in the spirit of Becket, catechists used this song for children to defiantly teach their polity.
Purportedly, the gift on the fifth day “secretly” represents the Torah, the central five books of the Old Testament: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The gift of these books reminds the singer of humanity’s fall from grace and of God’s response by creating a people to be a light to the world into which THE Light of the World would be born.
What do we do with this?
Pray: Guide me on the difficult path of discernment and trust
Christians often talk a good game when it comes to “speaking truth to power” but we mostly keep to ourselves. We even have problems talking to each other! So we can get locked into going with whatever the latest graceless thing the government is doing, even acting as if political power is all that matters. This day calls us to change our perspective.
Pray with your journal and ask the Lord to show you what you actually trust. It might be the fear-led defenses that protect you from experiencing lack of trust! It may be some substitute for God that promises safety in a troubling world. It may be yourself. “Who or what do you actually trust?” is a basic question we all need to answer, right?