A shepherd preparing for death

Daily Reading for December 29 • Thomas Becket, 1170

On Christmas Day, . . the archbishop ascended the pulpit and delivered a sermon to the people. At the end of the sermon he predicted that the time of his death was at hand, and that he would soon leave his people. And when he made this prediction, tears more than words came forth, and the hearts of those listening were also very disturbed and contrite. Throughout the whole church you would have seen and heard the tears and laments of the congregation, who murmured among themselves, “Father, why do you desert us so soon, and to whom do you leave us desolate?” For these were not wolves but sheep, who knew the voice of their shepherd, and felt compassion, hearing that their shepherd was soon to leave the world, but not knowing when or how it should happen. But eventually after he had preached at length to his people and predicted his end, no longer crying, no longer weeping, but after the tears, as could be seen and heard, so furious, ardent and bold, he inveighed against the arrogant and hateful men of the land explicitly and by name. Not now, as it seemed, peaceful towards those who hated peace, he did not sheathe the sword in the presence of his enemies, but wielded it boldly and confidently, and in a spirit of ardour struck with anathema many of the courtiers closest to the king. . . .

Certainly if you had seen these things, you would have immediately said that you had seen and heard in the flesh the prophetic animal who had the face of a man and the face of a lion. After he had done these things, for the rest of the day the archbishop showed himself devoted in the table of God and later at the secular table he displayed his usual good spirits, eating meat as on other days, even though it was a Friday and Christmas Day, pronouncing that on such a day it was more religious to feast than to fast.

From the recollections of Herbert of Bosham, quoted in The Lives of Thomas Becket, selected sources translated and annotated by Michael Staunton (Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2001).

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