WAY Too Cool! St. Thomas Becket’s prayer book

thomas becketFrom The Guardian:

Thomas Becket’s personal book of psalms ‘found in Cambridge library’

Historian claims the Psalter is ‘undoubtedly’ the property of martyred saint, and that he may have been holding it when he was murdered

A Cambridge academic believes he has discovered Thomas Becket’s personal book of psalms, an ancient manuscript the martyred saint and so-called “turbulent priest” may have been holding when he was murdered in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170.

Dr Christopher de Hamel, a historian at Cambridge University, stumbled across the book during a conversation with a colleague. De Hamel, author of the just-released Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts, had said that books belonging to saints were generally not used as relics, and his fellow historian replied that he knew of an exception.

He showed de Hamel an entry from the Sacrists’ Roll of Canterbury Cathedral, dating to 1321, which gave a detailed description of a Psalter, [Talk about a great example of scripta manent!] or book of psalms, in a jewelled binding, that was then preserved as a relic at the shrine of Becket in the cathedral. Becket, archbishop of Canterbury from 1162 to 1170, was murdered by four knights inside the cathedral, who took on the task after supposedly hearing Henry II remark: “Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?”

De Hamel said that he read the Psalter’s description, and realised he had seen it before: an Anglo-Saxon Psalter in Cambridge’s Parker Library bears the same description on its flyleaf. It is undoubtedly the same manuscript from Becket’s shrine, he believes.

A 16th-century note says the book once belonged to Becket, but “everyone has always said it was ridiculous,” said de Hamel. “Becket is a big name and there’s a list of his books. This isn’t one of them.” But a link had not previously been made between the 14th-century inventory and the Parker manuscript.

In a piece in Saturday’s Guardian Review, De Hamel lays out how the Psalter was clearly made in Canterbury, and dates from the very early 11th century. It was probably, he said, made for the private use of an archbishop, likely Alphege, who was archbishop from 1005 to 1016, when he was killed by the Danes in Greenwich. Alphege was later canonised, and was Becket’s personal patron saint.

“People hadn’t matched it up, and suddenly there it was,” said de Hamel. “The inscription says this is the Psalter of the archbishop of Canterbury. It clearly is a private Psalter … I assume Becket had come across the book and taken it into his own possession.”

The academic also points to the stained glass window in Trinity Chapel in Canterbury, which shows Becket holding a book of the Psalter’s size, in a similarly decorated binding. The window is above the site of the shrine of Becket, and is almost contemporary to the saint’s death, made around 1200. The shrine was destroyed in the 16th century by Henry VIII. [Monster.]

“Of course he is going to be shown holding something you could have seen on the shrine – that’s part of ­­the marketing,” said de Hamel. “The shrine was destroyed, and nothing from it survives, except possibly this. It would have been seen by pilgrims to the shrine [including] Chaucer. And it was sitting quietly in Cambridge.”

De Hamel said he was “absolutely sure” that the Parker library manuscript is the book that sat on Becket’s shrine. “Whether it really belonged to Becket – well, I wasn’t there. But I bet it did. [The creators of the shrine] obviously absolutely believed it was his. And I expect it was,” he said.



Read the rest there.

Every once in a while fantastic finds are made, which boggle the mind. For example, in 1969 Johannes Divjak discovered in the Bibliothèque Municipale of Marseilles 29 letters by St. Augustine of Hippo that were completely unknown. Think… Rosetta Stone, Dead Sea Scrolls, the body of King Richard III.

On that note, let’s watch the ridiculously wonderful excommunication scene from the Becket with Richard Burton.  UK HERE

It’s that little pause before the last word that really does it.

When I’m at last elected and take the name Pius or Clement or something, that’s what my extremely rare public appearances will be like.  Then we shall disappear back into the Apostolic Palace not to be seen for stretches of time so long that people will speculate that we have died.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Worm-120 says:

    So when your elected pope Father Golum you’ll still blog right? No papal ghost writers for you?;)


  2. JARay says:

    Don’t you just love those academics who do not know the difference beween “your” and “you’re” !!!!

  3. Charles E Flynn says:

    I wonder how many takes the excommunication scene took, and whether Richard Burton knew how much the pause added to the drama. I suspect he knew just what he was doing.

  4. APX says:

    I would like to see that Rite of Excommunication brought back and used to its fullest extent and shared throughout social media. Perhaps it would get the message across.

  5. Suburbanbanshee says:

    On the subject of books which are relics, there is of course the Cathach of St. Columba, a psalter written out in his own hand, and which was so much a relic of St. Columba that it was carried into battle by the O’Donnells, much like a banner or some of the Byzantine wonderworking icons.

  6. CPT TOM says:

    APX, I second that…and considering that San Francisco is the heart of the Tech world, I strongly suggest that Archbishop Salvatore Joseph Cordileone starts with Nancy Pelosi. Hopefully he uses the video above as a model and streams it with multiple repeats of the video.

  7. WYMiriam says:

    Fr. Z: “When I’m at last elected and take the name Pius or Clement or something,”

    Hm. How about the name Thomas? It could serve a double purpose: to emulate St. Thomas Becket, and be a way for others to doubt — your existence, that is!

  8. ChadS says:

    It’s amazing what treasures are hidden in libraries and archives around the world. Every now and then a story appears about long lost manuscripts, letters, books, or pieces of music that were erroneously put back in the wrong folder. Decades or even centuries later a scholar will find something that was misplaced and though lost for years. Or maybe a researcher looking for information on something else will find papers that were thought to belong to one person but are actually from somebody else. These types of finds are always amazing but frightening how easily our cultural patrimony and heritage can simply be misfiled and quickly lost.

  9. Chatto says:

    Fr. Hunewicke has related several times how an Icelandic fisherman brought a narwhal tusk to St. Thomas’ shrine in thanksgiving for an excellent catch. Who knows what other marvels were simply bonfired by Cromwell’s goons! Also, it’s interesting that none of the plaques in the cathedral actually tell you that St. Anselm is buried in St. Anselm’s Chapel – not a certainty in Anglican churches by any stretch.

  10. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Many thanks for drawing this to our attention! And what a spur to looking around a bit and seeing how interesting the Wikipedia article, “Parker Library, Corpus Christi College”, and the Parker Library’s own website are! “About the Parker Library” in the sidebar of the latter notes, “The collection includes a sixth-century Gospel book from Canterbury, which is used for the enthronement of each new Archbishop of Canterbury, the oldest illustrated Latin Gospel book now in existence”! The Wikipedia article, “St Augustine Gospels”, notes further, “The manuscript is traditionally, and plausibly, considered to be either a volume brought by St Augustine to England with the Gregorian mission in 597, or one of a number of books recorded as being sent to him in 601 by Pope Gregory the Great”! Wow! Another (double – or, indeed, how many fold?) relic, whether especially treated as such or not.

    The Internet Archive has a scan of M.R. James’s The Sources of Archbishop Parker’s Collection of MSS at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge (Cambridge 1899), in which he notes (p. 5) a manuscript which “contains the Polycraticus and the Metalogion of John of Salisbury, is the very copy which the author presented to St Thomas à Becket, to whom the former of the two treatises is dedicated” – so, another St. Thomas book-relic! If Matthew Parker (sometime chaplain to Anne Boleyn!) was a great preserver of “manuscripts, salvaged from the libraries of dissolved monasteries” (Wikipedia), James notes the horrific work of “the Commissioners appointed under Edward VI. to reform the Universities” (p. 4).

  11. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    The scholar who blogs as A Clerk of Oxford has many interesting blogs about St. Alphege: I think most recently this one, which includes links to earlier ones:


  12. mibethda says:

    If this Book of Psalms is in Anglo Saxon (Old English), then, while it may have come into the possession of Becket, I doubt that it can be characterized as his ‘personal’ Book of Psalms in the sense of one that he would read or use (as in the liturgy of the hours). As a Norman – from a middle class Norman family – it is doubtful that Becket would have read Anglo Saxon. He may have kept it simply as a relic of his patron.

  13. Tiber Swimmer 2012 says:

    What hymn is being chanted in the beginning? The ‘Bell, Book, and Candle’ rite called for Psalm 50[51] & 66[67] (Septuagint [Masoretic] numbering), but I’m not hearing either.

  14. Gerhard says:

    Dies irae, I think, but I may well be wrong.

  15. Filipino Catholic says:

    It *is* the Dies Irae! Probably chosen for the cinematic reason of ominousness (its lyrics are absolutely weighty to hear), and because it would have taken extra time for the actors to learn the Miserere and the Deus misereatur. It’s spectacularly ironic — the Rite of Excommunication involves *two* psalms beseeching God’s mercy, when according to the zeitgeist of the times now, excommunication is about the most unmerciful thing the Church could do to a person.

  16. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    Clement. Oh, by all means, let it be Clement! The irony would be just too, too rich!

  17. Venerator Sti Lot says:


    I think it is a manuscript of the Latin Psalter made by Anglo-Saxons (though Matthew Parker was very keen on collecting manuscripts in Anglo-Saxon, as well – including the earliest copy of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle).

    Interestingly, M.R. James, in The Sources of Archbishop Parker’s Collection of MSS at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, with a Reprint of the Catalogue of Thomas Markaunt’s Library (1899), discusses another one in the collection (p. 10), “a Psalter of the xiiith century (No. 468) in which the Latin and Greek versions – both in Latin letters – are written in parallel columns.” There is a project which (as Wikipedia puts it) “has digitised the 538 manuscripts described” in James’s book – The Parker Library on the Web – but, sadly, you have to be a subscriber to see them (I don’t know exactly how that works).

  18. mcgarveya says:

    I forgot how good this movie is! One of my favorites. If only the episcopacy would use this rite more often to discipline and counsel openly wayward and rebellious Catholics…..

  19. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    When did Heads of State stop allowing themselves to be deservedly flogged (however cynical, withal?) – and when may they be persuaded to resume?

  20. Pingback: WEDNESDAY EXTRA | Big Pulpit

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