A bone fragment believed to come from St Thomas Becket has been brought to England for the first time since it was taken to Hungary, possibly as long as 800 years ago.
The bone is thought to be part of the elbow of St Thomas, who was murdered in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170.
The relic is the centre-piece of a week-long pilgrimage that is visiting London and Kent, starting with a Mass celebrated at Westminster Cathedral on Monday evening.
Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster concelebrated the Mass with Hungarian Cardinal Peter Erdo. The relic was joined by other relics of St Thomas from Westminster Cathedral and Stonyhurst College.
Cardinal Nichols said the fragment’s return to England helped “solidify that growing sharing of life that takes place between Christian churches”.
“It reminds all Christians that there comes a point where their loyalty to Christ becomes the overriding loyalty of their lives and they might have to pay a final price,” the cardinal added.
The fragment will go on display at Westminster Abbey and St Magnus the Martyr Church, also in London. On Friday it will be taken to Rochester Cathedral and on Saturday it will go to Canterbury, where a procession through the city will take place followed by a service of welcome at Canterbury Cathedral.
The shrine at Canterbury which contained most of Becket’s remains was destroyed at the time of Henry VIII when the veneration of saints was condemned.
The fragment of bone is kept in a gold case that usually resides in Hungary’s Esztergom Cathedral. It is not known how it arrived in Hungary, however one theory suggests it was taken from Becket’s body in 1220, when his grave was opened.