Analysis of the ice in an Alpine glacier has shed unexpected light on the murder of Thomas Becket, Henry II’s “turbulent priest”, 900 years ago. Scientists from the University of Nottingham have been tracking historical levels of airborne pollution by analysing the chemicals that were trapped in layers of ice as the Colle Gnifetti glacier, near Zermatt, formed. Atmospheric modelling suggests that during the 12th century, many of the chemicals deposited in the ice drifted over from northern England – a centre of mining and smelting at that time.
They found that in the period running up to Becket’s murder in 1170, levels of lead in the air dipped significantly – the result, they suggest, of England’s bureaucracy (which was largely run by the clergy) being paralysed during Henry’s dispute with the Archbishop of Canterbury. A decade later, there was a spike in pollution, as the penitent Henry built monasteries and churches, which needed large amounts of lead for roofing, to atone for Becket’s death. Chief researcher Prof Christopher Loveluck described the discovery of these correlations as an “X marks the spot” moment.(The Week,
Relevance to Epicureanism? None whatsoever. But as an historian I thought it might be of interest – the side effect of national politics. Oh, and, I might add, a sidelight into how deeply political, powerful and threatening to the government the church was perceived to be in medieval days when an archbishop (in reality a courtier posing as a champion of the church) could challenge a king.