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5 Things You Should Know About St. Thomas More

A brilliant scholar, writer, and politician, St. Thomas More was a fearless defender of truth in an era of corrupt leadership. As we observe his feast on June 22, we invite you to learn five key facts about his life and where you can find him in the Basilica.

St. Thomas More depicted in the Second Coming Mosaic

1. He is the patron of lawmakers and politicians.

Thomas was not initially attracted to law; after he enrolled at Oxford at age 15, he became fascinated with classical literature and wanted to pursue an academic career. However, his father was a prominent judge, and his family highly encouraged him to become a lawyer. Afraid that Thomas would end up in poverty in his chosen discipline, his father sent him to law school in London instead.

Even though law and politics weren’t his first choice, he would go on to become one of the most influential members of the British government. When St. Thomas was canonized by Pope Pius XI in 1935, the 400th year of his martyrdom, he was declared the patron saint of lawmakers and politicians.

2. He published his magnum opus, Utopia, in 1516.

Utopia, a blend of Thomas’s wit and scholastic wisdom, presents a fantasy world where people live on an island in perfect harmony, with reason and goodwill reigning supreme. Fights over power and money do not exist in Utopia, whose people have few laws, practice general religious tolerance, and only fashion useful objects. Written in Latin, the text presents a piquant blend of social teaching, political and religious commentary, and clever wordplay.

3. He was knighted in 1521.

Thomas’s political career began with his election to Parliament in 1504, during the reign of King Henry VII. When Henry VIII succeeded his predecessor, he selected Thomas to be England’s capital representative and later sent him to Flanders and present-day France on diplomatic missions. Because of his service, Thomas was named deputy treasurer, made a member of the King’s Council, and ultimately knighted in 1521.

St. Thomas More portrayed in the northwest nave bay of the Great Upper Church

4. He was the first layman to be selected as Lord Chancellor.

Following his knighthood, Thomas continued to rise in prominence. In 1523, he was elected speaker of the House of Commons, and in 1529 King Henry VIII appointed him Lord Chancellor. But More faced difficulty in this position as he attempted to balance loyalty to king and duty to conscience. Only a few years into his tenure there, England became sorely divided over King Henry VIII’s marital affairs. Thomas had strong moral objections to the annulment of Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon and resigned from his position in 1532.

5. He was imprisoned following his refusal to affirm King Henry VIII’s Act of Succession.

Thomas’s resignation was not enough; less than two years later, he was imprisoned following his refusal to sanction Henry’s Act of Succession. As he languished in a dank prison cell for over a year, Thomas faced pressure from his replacement to affirm the Act of Supremacy, which would declare Henry VIII head of the Church in England. But Thomas remained steadfast, staying true to his conscience and opposing the act. Henry VIII was incensed that the illustrious Thomas More refused to support him, and sentenced him to death. Yet even in the final moments before his execution, More remained a steadfast example of Christ, reciting Psalm 51 to the spectators and requesting their prayers for the Church and the king.

St. Thomas More is honored at the Basilica in the northwest nave bay of the Great Upper Church and in the Second Coming Mosaic.


Apostolic Letter of Pope John Paul II, the Vatican

Butler’s Lives of Saints, ed. Bernard Bangley

The Way of Saints, Tom Cowan

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