Stained-glass windows of the ambulatory of Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres,
Panel depicting Thomas Becket in Exile,
Window funded by the Tanner's Guild,
Windows created and installed between 1215–1225,
© Wikimedia Commons
Feast of Saint Thomas Becket
Jesus said to his apostles: ‘Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; fear him rather who can destroy both body and soul in hell. Can you not buy two sparrows for a penny? And yet not one falls to the ground without your Father knowing. Why, every hair on your head has been counted. So there is no need to be afraid; you are worth more than hundreds of sparrows.
‘So if anyone declares himself for me in the presence of men, I will declare myself for him in the presence of my Father in heaven. But the one who disowns me in the presence of men, I will disown in the presence of my Father in heaven.’
Reflection on the early Stained Glass Window
Today we celebrate the Feast of Saint Thomas Becket (1118-1170), archbishop of Canterbury, murdered in his cathedral on 29th December 1170. He was made chancellor of England at the age of 36 by his friend King Henry II. Henry soon insisted upon usurping Church rights. Initially Thomas was wavering to accommodate the king’s wishes and thus momentarily approved the Constitutions of Clarendon, which would have denied the clergy the right of trial by a Church court and prevented them from making direct appeal to Rome. But Thomas eventually rejected the Constitutions and then fled to France for safety. He remained in exile there, eventually returning to England although he knew that it would probably mean certain death. Because Thomas upon his return refused to remit censures he had placed upon bishops favoured by the king, Henry II cried out in a rage, “Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest!” Four knights, taking his words as his wish, slew Thomas in Canterbury cathedral.
And so Thomas Becket became the patron saint of Roman Catholic diocesan clergy. He shows how none of us can become a saint without struggles, especially with ourselves. Thomas knew he had to stand firm in defence of truth and what he believed in.
Our stained glass window at Chartres Cathedral was installed a mere 45 years after Thomas’ death, showing how his influence had reached Continental Europe as well. The large Saint Thomas Becket window is nearly 9 metres high and features four main circles each depicting episodes from the life of St Thomas. The 800-year-old detail we are looking at depicts Thomas his exile. A man holding a club throws Thomas out of England towards a tree (France). Thomas is shown with a red halo in episcopal vestments with his episcopal mitre and cross.
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Leaving Europe to return to England that is.
Thomas’s situation reminds me of the story of St. Peter returning to Rome. And, all those newly ordained priests during the persecution of Catholics leaving the European seminaries, and facing death, if caught, for the crime of being a priest.
The window is beautiful. I love the red and blue used so often in those times.
I have just been visiting recusant houses in Warwickshire and finding out about the heroic Jesuit priests who hid out in priest holes there. Inspiring – I couldn’t do it for sure….obviously!!
I have never visited Chartres, but I have visited Canterbury Cathedral and what an experience that was! It seemed to me the entire history of English Christianity was encapsulated in that building. That visit will remain a very special one for me and one day I hope to go back. Happy memory for me today Patrick, thank you!