In 1170, on the Fifth Day of Christmas, four knights from the court of King Henry II burst into Canterbury Cathedral as the Archbishop was on his way to Vespers. Just inside the cloister door, they murdered Thomas Becket, whose defense of the rights of the Church had angered his onetime friend, the King. Within three years, Thomas was canonized, and the shrine of St. Thomas of Canterbury was set to become one of the most popular destinations for pilgrims from all over Europe. In his play, “Murder in the Cathedral,” T.S. Eliot reconstructs from historical sources the Archbishop’s final sermon, preached in the cathedral on Christmas Day. It is a remarkable meditation on the meaning of Christmas, martyrdom, and the true meaning of “peace on earth.” The Fifth Day of Christmas, the anniversary of Becket’s death and his feast day, is an opportunity to reflect on the broader meaning of Christmas by reading the Archbishop’s sermon. You can also sing your reflection with this hymn for the martyr’s feast. The Becket Panel at Wymondham Abbey offers a visual meditation on the life of the Archbishop.
The red bill and legs of the chough are unique to this member of the crow family. In heraldry they are known as “beckits” and three choughs were found on the coat of arms of Archbishop Thomas. The chough was a popular symbol of his resistance to the King. In Britain today they are found only on the western side of the islands, but efforts are being made to restore them to Kent. An outdoor activity for this day might include ensuring that the bird feeder is full and spending some time watching the many varieties of birds that visit it.