Monday, August 23, 2004

Murder on Location

From Thursday, August 26 through Saturday, August 28, St. Mary�s Church will become the stage for Murder in the Cathedral, the gripping verse drama by T.S. Eliot reenacting the death of Archbishop Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral on December 29, 1170.
Murder in the Cathedral graphic
Written for the Canterbury Festival in 1935, Eliot�s play � arguably the most substantial religious drama of the past century � was soon recognized as a classic and moved into commercial theatres; later it even became a film. But it is still best experienced in a church; in this setting it has been performed all over the world, including at St. Peter’s Cathedral in Charlottetown in 1983.

The production, mounted by ACT (A Community Theatre) and directed by Terry Pratt, uses the entire church as a performance space, through which priests, tempters, knights, and a women�s chorus move in interaction with the character of Thomas Becket (performed by Clive Keen). The play also features an impressive selection of medieval and early Renaissance choral music sung by the Indian River Festival Chorus under the direction Carl Mathis, who also prepared the women�s chorus.

�This is Location Theatre�,� says Terry Pratt. �There�s no stage as such, and you�ll find some of the action taking place beside, and even behind you. Think of yourself as part of it all � a church mouse perhaps, on a pew in Canterbury in 1170.�


Murder in the Cathedral is the second ACT (A Community Theatre) production of Summer 2004, following on the success of �Office Hours� by Norm Foster in June. A major production of the musical �Jesus Christ Superstar� is currently in rehearsal and will be staged at the Confederation Centre early in November.

Performances begin at 8 p.m. at St. Mary�s Church in Indian River. For more information or ticket reservations call, 1-866-856-3733, 902-836-3733 or visit

Historical Background

Thomas Becket was the son of a wealthy Norman-English merchant. Educated at the University of Paris, he joined the household of Theobald, the powerful archbishop of Canterbury, for whom he became a privileged agent. In 1154 Becket was made the archdeacon of Canterbury, and that same year he met King Henry II. The two men became fast friends. Henry named Becket his chancellor, and when Theobald died in 1161, the king saw an opportunity to increase his influence over the Church by appointing Thomas as the new archbishop. If King Henry had believed that he could control �his man� in Canterbury, he had not reckoned with Thomas Becket. Resigning the chancellorship and turning from his worldly lifestyle, Thomas entered upon a career of piety and asceticism, resolved to defend the interests of the Church.

In those days, the Church reserved the right to try clergy accused of crimes through its own religious courts. Henry sought to extend the Crown�s court jurisdiction for secular crimes over the clergy. Becket launched a campaign of opposition to the king�s legal claims, culminating in his rejection of the Constitutions of Clarendon in 1164. Henry then summoned him to court and demanded to know what Becket had done with the large amounts of money that had passed through his hands as Chancellor. Seeing the writing on the wall, Becket fled to France where he remained in exile until 1170 when the two former friends appeared to resolve their dispute.

Becket returned to Canterbury, but promptly excommunicated three English bishops who had taken part in a premature coronation of the king�s eldest son � a violation of the Archbishop of Canterbury�s ancient right. On hearing this news King Henry was outraged, allegedly shouting: “Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?” Taking the king at his word, four knights set sail for England. On landing, they searched out the Archbishop in the Cathedral, where they brutally murdered him.

The murder horrified the entire Christian world. Almost instantly Thomas Becket was declared a saint and martyr. The knights who killed him fell into disgrace. Four years later, Henry II himself did public penance, walking barefoot through the streets of Canterbury. The saint�s tomb became one of the most important pilgrimage sites in medieval Europe, and Thomas Becket remains a vivid presence to Canterbury tourists of today.

- from Fred Louder

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