lördag 30 december 2017

St Thomas of Canterbury

Today is the feast of St Thomas of Canterbury. He was a martyr in the cause of the independence of the church from state power. That it is a perennial issue we know from the episode of “render unto Caesar”.

At Brighton, during the 1980s, we had a curate, Fr Mark Elvins, who was a descendant of the Four Knights who murdered the Archbishop in Canterbury Cathedral on 29 December 1170. Fr Mark had acquired a relic of St Thomas whilst on a visit to Rome and brought it back to Brighton. This inspired him to set up a charity in Brighton to provide hostel accommodation for recovering alcoholics and drug addicts, under the patronage of St Thomas.

The existence of these relics of St Thomas was against the will of King Henry VIII. All relics of St Thomas were to have been destroyed after the shrine was taken down in 1538, on the King’s orders. Henry demanded that all the bones be ground to dust and shot from a canon. The plan was confounded because long before, relics had been given to the Papal Legate and the King of France when they made a state visit to Canterbury; there was also a relic sent to Hungary.

After leaving Brighton, Fr Mark eventually joined the Franciscans and became head of Greyfriars, Oxford. He died in 2014.

When he was at Brighton Fr Mark used to celebrate a Tridentine Missa Cantata on this day, followed by a pub lunch. It was an event to look forward to in those indeterminate days between Christmas and New Year. I had thought of going to Mass today but it would just have made me unhappy as a reminder of what is, sadly, no more.

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