23 May 2016, The Tablet

Ancient relic of St Thomas a Becket returns to UK for first time in 800 years

Hungarian president brings over bone of revered saint for reunion tour at Catholic and Anglican cathedrals

A relic of St Thomas a Becket, which has been venerated in Hungary for more than 800 years will be shown in Britain for the first time at a Mass to celebrate the most famous Archbishop of Canterbury at Westminster Cathedral tonight.

The relic - believed to be a fragment of bone from the saint's arm which survived an attempt during the Reformation to destroy all remnants of the former head of the Catholic Church in England - will be reunited with other relics of the saint from St Magnus the Martyr, near London Bridge, St Thomas of Canterbury, in Fulham, St Thomas Church, in Canterbury, and Stonyhurst, the Jesuit school in Lancashire.

The president of Hungary Janos Ader and the speaker of the Hungarian Assembly, Laszlo Kover, will take part in a number of events to commemorate the first return of the relics which are believed to have taken to Hungary by a close friend of Becket not longer after his murder.

St Thomas saw a revival in popularity in Hungary during the Communist years as a potent symbol of resistance against an all-powerful state because of his martyrdom in 1170 at Canterbury Cathedral at the hands of four knights who claimed to have been sent by King Henry II.

The Holy Mass will be celebrated by Cardinal Peter Erdo, Archbishop of Esztergom, the home of the relics, and Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster.

Fr Nicholas Schofield, the Archivist for the Diocese of Westminster, told Oremus magazine: "The Hungarian pilgrimage reminds us that St Thomas is very much a shared saint – across the denominations and in various countries. But he is also very much ‘our saint,’ born and bred in London, his chapel once standing on London Bridge and his name given to a famous hospital."


Full itinerary of relics tour: 

23 May

4pm Relics from Esztergom, Hungary, will join relics from St Magnus the Martyr, in London, St Thomas of Canterbury, in Fulham, St Thomas Church, in Canterbury, and Stonyhurst Catholic school in Lancashire arrive at Westminster Cathedral

5pm Vespers sung by Westminster Cathedral Choir.

5.30pm Solemn Mass in Westminster Cathedral, celebrated by Cardinal Péter Erdo, Archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest, and Cardinal Vincent Nichols.

24 May

4pm Relics arrive at Westminster Abbey.

5pm A service of Solemn Evensong sung jointly by the Cathedral and Abbey Choirs in the presence of János Áder, President of the Republic of Hungary.

25 May

The relic held in Esztergom will be displayed throughout the morning in St Margaret's Church, next to Westminster Abbey.

2.30pm The relic will be transferred to St Magnus the Martyr Church.

4pm Service for the public in St Magnus the Martyr Church, Lower Thames Street, London EC3R 6DN.

26 May

The Hungarian-based relic to be displayed in St Margaret's Church next to Westminster Abbey throughout the day.

6.30pm Eric Symes Abbot Lecture on St Thomas Becket in Westminster Abbey (Roger Scruton).

27 May

4pm The relic from Esztergom transferred to Rochester.

5.30pm A service of solemn Evensong in Rochester Cathedral.

28 May

2pm The relic transferred to Canterbury.
2.45pm Pilgrims assemble at St Michael's Church, Harbledown (Summer Hill, Harbledown CT2 8NW)
3pm Pilgrims set off on foot from St Michael's to Canterbury Cathedral via Westgate Towers. The pilgrimage takes about 1 hour (1.5 miles).
4pm Pilgrims arrive at Canterbury Cathedral (the Precincts). The relic and pilgrims pass through the main entrance. The Dean and the leadership of the Cathedral receive pilgrims at the nave. Welcome service, speeches by religious and civic leaders.

29 May

1.30pm Mass at Canterbury Cathedral, in the crypt.

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