The Life and Martyrdom of Saint Thomas Becket John Morris Author
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THE life of St. Thomas of Canterbury is exceptionally well known. More than seven hundred years have elapsed since he died, and yet his history stands out before us with a distinctness and minuteness that is extremely rare among the records of great men. The witnesses to the facts are both numerous and trustworthy. They wrote of matters of which they had personal knowledge, and their writings were in the hands of those who were the most capable of judging of their truthfulness. The universal and vehement interest taken in all that concerned St. Thomas, while later on it may have caused an embroidery of legends to be attached to his name, would ensure attention to the minutest details while the story was yet fresh, and this is a guarantee for accuracy and care. The substantial agreement of several writers, evidently independent of one another, is a further assurance of fidelity. The personal character of the writers is above suspicion, and their ability manifest; and lastly, all that skilful editing can do for them has happily been done, and that too at the public expense. Benedict, a Inonk of Christ Church, Canterbury, is said by the editor of the Quadrilogue (about 1220) to have been on the day of the martyrdom among the Saint's more intimate friends, and to have recorded those things of which he was an ear or eye witness. He wrote only of the martyrdom and of the subsequent miracles. No copy of his narrative of the martyrdom exists, but considerable fragments have been preserved in the Quadrilogue. The miracles are now in six books. Of these the last two art: by another hand, as events are there related which happened after Benedict's death. He died in 1193 or 1194 at Peterborough, of which house he was made abbot in 1177. The fourth book of miracles is of about the date of Benedict's election as Abbot of Peterborough, for it mentions the great fire at Rochester, which occurred in the April of that year. But the work is not in strict chronological order, for after the passage relating to the fire, a letter is inserted addressed to Odo as Prior of Canterbury; but Odo was made Abbot of Battle, and Benedict himself became Prior of Canterbury in 1175. The first three books of miracles, according to Mr. Magnusson, formed the original volume, and all that is related in them happened during the seventeen months that fol1owed the martyrdom. In July, 1172, William was charged to record the miracles in addition to Benedict, who had fulfilled that office from the beginning. By this fact Mr. Magnusson ingeniously dates not Benedict only but Fitzstcphcn. For Fitzstephen says that there was a Codex which was read in the Chapter at Canterbury, which related the miracles wrought in England, and he adds that those in France, Ireland, and elsewhere had as yet no historian. This Codex was Benedict's volume, ending then with the third book; and Mr. Magnusson concludes that Benedict's three books were written before Fitzstephen's Life of St. Thomas; and further that Fitzstephen wrote before William of Canterbury began, that is within the first seventeen months. The argument is pressed perhaps a little too closely, as there would be but one Codex until William had made some progress with his work. Afterwards Gervase speaks of two volumes of miracles, Benedict's and Williams and the mention of one by Fitzstephen may fairly be taken to mean that there then was but one.


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