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The Quest for Becket's Bones: The Mystery of the Relics of St. Thomas Becket of Canterbury [Paperback]

By Professor John Butler (Author)
Our Price $ 17.85  
Retail Value $ 21.00  
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Item Number 159509  
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Item Specifications...

Pages   192
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 9.8" Width: 6.79" Height: 0.6"
Weight:   1.29 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Jul 31, 1996
Publisher   Yale University Press
ISBN  0300068956  
EAN  9780300068955  

Availability  0 units.

Item Description...
The history of the quest for the lost remains of England`s greatest saint-Thomas Becket-is a compelling story of politics, science, conjecture, romanticism, and mystery. This suspenseful and intriguing book tells that story, sifting the known evidence, uncovering much that is new, and suggesting several hypotheses for the resting place of the elusive bones.

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Reviews - What do our customers think?
A fascinating mystery  Aug 21, 2007
I picked this up after visiting Canterbury. Ashamed to say, I didn't really know much about Becket and the conflict between him and the King. Much less, the disappearance of his shrine and bones. Fascinating reading, I wish it included more information and more illustrations about the shrine and its original location, its appearance, etc.
Historical mystery at its finest  May 12, 2006
At a time when 'The Da Vinci Code' is poised to open strongly at the box office, it's nice to find a historical mystery that is actually grounded in reality! In this case, it's the mystery surrounding the remains of St. Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury.

Following his murder in 1170, Becket's remains were interred in two places within the Carterbury Catherdral - a below-ground crypt from 1170 through 1220, and an above-ground shrine from 1220 through the shrine's destruction in 1538. Thereafter, numerous theories described how his remains were rescued from the destruction... but no one could authoritatively determine where they were. Then, in 1888, a shallow grave just beneath the shrine's former location was opened, revealing a man's bones. Could these be the relics of the sainted Thomas Becket, the most revered person in English Catholicism?

The mystery didn't end there, and in fact, the book begins with a Da Vinci Code-like event in the early 1990s. It may not thrill quite like Dan Brown's novel, and that's about the only drawback to an otherwise great read. Truth IS stranger than fiction!
Gone forever??  Mar 18, 2006
This interesting book by John Butler traces the history behind the disappearance of the remains of England's greatest saint, St. Thomas Becket. The remains which until 1538, rested in Canterbury Cathedral, have gone "missing". The author gave several possible outcome although from the tone of the book, it appears that the bones of St. Thomas might be gone forever. That was due to the fact that in 1538, Henry VIII who in his height of reformation fever and his stuggles against the Pope, ordered the destruction of St. Thomas' remains. And even if that order was avoided and the body reburied in secret, to find that possible body would mean tearing up the floor of this historical and holy cathedral. So in some weird way, the remains of St. Thomas will probably be lost forever.

The book proves to be well written, researched and interesting bit of history's mysteries. It come well illustrated with diagrams and photographs which helped with the narrative. Thus, the book come highly recommended.
the mystery remains  Jun 22, 2004
Always fascinated by Becket's story, I eagerly began this book hoping to discover a definitive solution to the mystery of the whereabouts of his vanished bones. I didn't find the answer (probably too much to hope for), but the book does provide a thorough compilation of the possibilities. Butler's style is smooth and readable, and he does a commendable, objective job of analyzing the facts. To his credit, he does not try to "sell" his own ideas on which of the scenarios is most likely. A worthwhile study of one of history's enduring mysteries.
A formidable treatment of an utterly fascinating mystery  Jun 18, 2004
Until now, all I knew about Thomas Becket was that he, the Archbishop of Canterbury, was killed by several of Henry II's knights, and the only real mystery was whether or not Henry actually meant the words literally when he expressed a desire to have Becket taken care of. This is an utterly fascinating book, replete with images of the Canterbury Cathedral and vintage art pieces depicting the murder of Becket. The text itself is well-written, impeccably organized, and never dull for one moment. As it turns out, Becket's murder was just the beginning of the story, one that imparts much insight into the history of England itself.

History tells us that Becket, a good friend of Henry II before becoming Archbishop of Canterbury, was talked into returning from exile in France only to be brutally murdered soon thereafter, in December 1170, in Canterbury Cathedral itself by four knights of the king. He sustained serious head wounds, and one of his murderers even pried out some portion of his brain and scattered it upon the floor. The next day, his body was buried in a marble or stone coffin in the Chapel of the Holy Trinity at the eastern end of the crypt; while the body was moved temporarily at least once to guard against theft, Becket's relics basically remained in this spot for the next fifty years. In 1220, the relics were moved to a shrine in the Trinity Chapel, and pilgrims came in droves to see the holy relics and to seek miraculous cures (and there apparently were some). Then came Henry VIII and the Reformation. In 1538, he ordered all religious shrines and relics destroyed, including (and especially) Thomas Becket's relics, at the hands of the Royal Commissioners for the Destruction of Shrines. Conventional wisdom said the sacred bones were burned and scattered in the wind, and the outcry of Roman Catholics throughout Europe at this perfidious action echoes still today. And so Thomas Becket's tragic story ended.

Then, in 1881, workers discovered a skeleton in the eastern crypt of the Cathedral; buried only a few inches below the ground, it lay in close proximity to the site of Becket's original resting place. Suddenly, the true fate of Becket's relics was in serious question; this was still an important issue in England as well as Europe, as the Roman Catholic - Anglican conflict still simmered if not verily seethed at the time (and Becket is historically the most venerable of the Roman Catholic saints of England, which is exactly why Henry VIII tried to erase him from history). The skeleton was arranged in a special way, and it was determined that the newly discovered body was that of a man somewhere around Becket's age who died of serious head wounds. Even as the remains were returned to the crypt, experts soon lined up on both sides of "the Becket hypothesis." In 1949, the Dean and Chapter of Canterbury had the bones exhumed once again and more advanced scientific tests were performed on them - the results of these tests quieted debate, but there continued to be individuals who insisted that the bones either were Becket's or were somehow related to Becket's relics.

Butler does a wonderful job presenting the history and controversy in a well-balanced manner, taking us carefully from 1170 up to the present. Since the vast majority of the story revolved around the bones discovered in 1881, it did come as something of a surprise two-thirds of the way into the book to learn that a 1951 report essentially proved the bones in the crypt were not Becket's, but this revelation did little to slow down the narrative; in fact, the surprising results of the 1951 study (of the bones from the crypt) only deepened the mystery. In the end, Butler basically ends up where he started, but that's okay. He has, in the meantime, made a convincing argument to the effect that there is no direct, contemporary evidence that the Canterbury Commissioners burned the bones removed from the shrine of St. Thomas in 1538. He closes by comparing and contrasting the five basic hypotheses that can be drawn from the evidence - while he names several other suggested burial sites for Becket's bones, he does not champion a gut theory of his own, and that makes for a most refreshing conclusion to the book. The mystery as to what really happened to Becket's bones (as well as the question of whose skeleton was discovered in the crypt in 1881) makes for a fascinating story sure to keep the inquisitive reader's mind engaged from start to finish.


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