Monday, December 28, 2020

"Has Thomas Becket's treasured 'little book' been found?"

 From the BBC, December 27, 2020:

More has been written about Thomas Becket, the archbishop hacked to death in Canterbury Cathedral exactly 850 years ago [sic, Dec 29], than any other non-royal English person of the Middle Ages. And yet it seems it's still possible to discover new things about his remarkable life.

Before dawn on 14 October 1164, Thomas Becket found an open gate in the city walls and rode out of Northampton with a servant and two guides, the sound of their horses' hooves masked by high wind and driving rain.

The archbishop was making a run for it after a week on trial in Northampton Castle. The initial charge had been a minor one, but King Henry II had added new and increasingly serious accusations, and a verdict of treason was looking likely.

Becket headed north, making it to Lincoln in two days, then put on the rough, dark woollen tunic of a local religious order, adopted the name Brother Christian, and turned south into the wilderness of the fens. His companions were genuine lay brothers, able to lead him through the marshes and waterways to isolated hermitages and priories, where he would be able to plan his next moves. Had he been caught, the leading Becket expert Prof Anne Duggan says, the king could have chosen any punishment he liked - castration, blinding, even death.

But Becket wasn't caught. 

He made it, ultimately, to Kent and was rowed from there to France in the first days of November.

In exile he would need money, so before leaving Northampton, Becket had secretly sent his closest confidant, the scholar Herbert of Bosham, to Canterbury, to gather as much as he could and to take it to the Abbey of St Bertin, near Calais. But there was also one other thing he wanted Herbert to find - a certain little book.

"The implication is that it was a book that was very important to Becket, and that Herbert would know what it was," Anne Duggan says.

"It's quite interesting that he doesn't tell us - so there is a mystery there. It wasn't a law book, it wasn't a gospel, it was a little book - a codicella."....