Dr Christopher de Hamel of Cambridge University has just made a discovery that most academics only dream of: He is convinced he has found an elusive book of personal psalms by Thomas Becket, that he was rumored to be holding at his death.
Saint Thomas Becket, or, Saint Thomas of Canterbury, was a famous English Saint who was martyred following discord with Henry II regarding the rights and privileges of the Church. He was murdered by the King’s order in 1170, by a group of Knights, in a now famously depicted scene.
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One day, Hamel and a colleague were flipping through entries from the Sacrist’s Roll of Canterbury Cathedral, and the two happened upon an entry that described a jeweled book of psalms that was enshrined with Becket’s body. Hamel put two and two together, and realized that he had seen the book before, at a Cambridge Library, no less!
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Hamel believes there is further evidence for his case. Becket is enshrined at Trinity Church in Canterbury. Above him, is a stained glass window depicting his death, where Becket is clearly shown to be holding a book that fits the description.
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Of his discovery, Hamel is cited as saying: “Of course I want this to be the book he was holding when he died – but we don’t know he was holding a book. We do know that when he died he commended his soul to St Alphege … It was clear to him it was coming. He left the room, and the knights there. He went upstairs, kitted himself out with his archiepiscopal [appurtenances], his ring, his mitre, and walked into the cathedral where they caught up with him and did it. Whether he also picked up the Psalter, I don’t know. There’s certainly no blood on the manuscript, but I don’t think there’s any doubt that moments after his death, they swept it up and said this is the most personal possession of the martyr. He would have had it on his person: it was his talisman of the divine.”
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