Most wanted man's miracle

Today is St Thomas Becket's Day.

Locally, of course, Becket has considerable historic importance and, I suspect for this reason, our Roman Catholic Cathedral includes him in its dedication, and so as well as belated Christmas wishes, may I also pass on my felicitations to the Cathedral parish on their Feast Day.

Back in 1170, Becket spent a good deal of time in Northampton, although the time was hardly "good" for him.

He was on trial in Northampton Castle, having rowed big time with his royal boss, Henry II.

In a nutshell, they were the best of friends and in 1162 Henry made Thomas the 27th Archbishop of Canterbury.

As time went on the friendship became strained because Thomas took his job so seriously that he refused to act as a pawn in Henry's game of politics.

The King, you see, was anxious to make the church answerable to the crown. Thomas was having none of it and eventually the great split came and Thomas was hauled before the King in Northampton.

Of course, Thomas famously escaped and sought exile in France.

It is said (quite wrongly) that he left Northampton via the Derngate and stopped for a drink at what is now Becket's Well that stands near the Becket's Park crossroads.

In fact legends abound as to where Thomas went and what he did after leaving the castle. We have no idea, of course, but why let the lack of facts spoil a good story?

I have a favourite legend that is not unique to Northamptonshire because this evidently happened in several other places round the country including Otford in Kent.

Anyway, Thomas, on leaving Northampton, took refuge in the Gilbertine Monastery in Deanshanger in the south of the county.

Naturally, newspaper photographs and television coverage being somewhat limited in 1170, Thomas's face was not too familiar to the local yokels of Northamptonshire and fortunately, no one recognised him.

No one, that is, except a farm labourer called Wayne who came across him as he was approaching the hamlet.

Quite how he recognised him remains a mystery, but we mustn't ask too many questions . . . remember it's only a yarn!

As it happened, the water in Deanshanger, or Dinneshangra as it was known then, was really foul, brackish, filthy and crawling with all sorts of nasties and the villagers were desperate for fresh, clean water.

As well as amazingly recognising the Archbishop, the farm labourer realised that Thomas Becket, being a man of God was, therefore, able to do wondrous and mighty things.

(Thomas's headgear mitre had something to do with it).

Thomas seems temporarily to have forgotten that he was Britain's most wanted man and pride got the better of him.

He was so flattered, that he instantly looked heavenward and struck the ground with his staff.

At that very spot a spring of clean water sprang forth and the water in Deanshanger was sweet thereafter and the place forever and to this day was known as Holywell.

This was just one of the 703 miracles that are said to have led to his canonisation.