Becket and the Holy Land


Crusader knight kneeling in prayer.
Westminster Psalter
© British Library Board, MS Royal A XXII f.220
Origin/Date: England (Westminster or St Albans) || c.1250

There are at least three versions of a miracle story in which St Thomas saved an English ship from a storm on the way to the Third Crusade in 1190. In the chronicles of Roger of Hoveden and Roger of Wendover, Thomas appeared in a vision to three Londoners, including William FitzOsbert and Geoffrey Aurifaber (‘Goldsmith’), on the ‘London ship’. He promised them that he, St Edmund, and St Nicholas, arguably the three most popular male saints in late-12th century England, were protecting the entire English fleet.  William FitzOsbert himself was to become venerated as an unofficial saint by Londoners after his part in a popular revolt in 1196.

Ralph de Diceto, dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, wrote that his chaplain William fulfilled a vow to St Thomas to found a chapel in Acre as thanks for safe transport over the seas. This was the start of the ‘Order of St Thomas of Acre’ established in Acre in 1191/2 with the backing of King Richard the Lionheart. It never had more than four houses, and its operations in the Holy Land were hindered by their poverty. The most important house of the order was that founded in London in the 1220s on the site of Thomas Becket’s birth. The name of the Order of St Thomas of Acre may have given rise to the belief that Becket had Syrian heritage, and thus provided the basis for the story of his Middle Eastern mother.

St Edmund

(d. 869) Anglo-Saxon king and martyr whose shrine at Bury St Edmunds attracted many pilgrims.


An event evoking wonder, in which a person is believed to be the agent of God's power. In the Bible. miracles tend to be associated with key people at critical periods of history, such as the Exodus. the ministry of Jesus and the Apostles.  


Holy war authorised by the Pope. Most were directed towards the liberation of the Holy Land from Muslim control but they were also undertaken against heretics in Western Europe.

Devotion - Venerate

1. A deep attachment or commitment to a cause or person. 2. A religious observance or act of worship, especially a form of prayer or worship for special use.

St Nicholas

(d. c.345-352) Bishop of Myra, in Lycia (situated in modern-day Turkey). Little is known of his life, but his cult has been one of the most significant of all saints in terms of the numbers of dedications and other evidence of devotion to him in both Eastern and Western Christianity. He is notable as the origin of the concept of Father Christmas, an aspect derived from a specific episode of gift giving in his pseudo-historical legend. However, his significance to medieval people, and particularly pilgrims. lay in his role as the patron saint of sailors and seafarers.  

Thomas Becket

 English Archbishop (Archbishop of Canterbury from 1162) and martyr, famously murdered by knights at Canterbury Cathedral after a dispute with Henry II. Miracles were soon recorded at his tomb. Canonised in 1173, his shrine became one of the most popular pilgrimage centres in Christendom. Patron saint of London with St Paul.

King Richard I

(1157-1199) King of England from 1189, and popularly known as ‘Lion Heart; (‘Coeur de Lion’) because of his reputation as a military commander. He led the English forces in the Holy Land on the Third Crusade in 1191.

[When the English Crusade fleet] had passed through the British Sea and the Sea of Poitou, and had come into the Spanish Sea, on Ascension Day [1190], at the third hour a mighty and dreadful tempest overtook them, and in the twinkling of an eye they were separated from each other. While the storm was raging, and all in their affliction were calling upon the Lord, the blessed Thomas, Archbishop of Canterbury and Martyr, appeared at three different times to three different persons who were on board a London ship in which was William Fitz-Osbert, and Geoffrey the goldsmith, saying to them,

Be not afraid, for I, Thomas, the archbishop of Canterbury, and the blessed Edmund the Martyr, and the blessed Nicholas, the Confessor, have been appointed by the Lord guardians of this fleet of the king of England; and if the men of this fleet will guard themselves against sin, and repent of their former offenses, the Lord will grant them a prosperous voyage, and will direct their foot. steps in His paths.” After having thrice repeated these words, the blessed Thomas vanished from before their eyes, and immediately the tempest ceased, and there was a great calm on the sea.