St Chad - Venerable Bishop of Lichfield, England, UK Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

St Chad - Venerable Bishop of Lichfield, England, UK

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Chad was born in Northumbria, at some time, it is thought, during the 620s. At about the time of his birth, there was considerable conflict between Christianity and the pagan religions of the Anglo-Saxons. There was also some conflict between the Roman church and the Celtic Christians, where traditions were being pulled in all directions.

Early British Christianity

History shows that, in 563, the Celtic monk Columba founded a monastery on Iona, in the Inner Hebrides. Then in 597, Augustine, who was trained in Rome, arrived in Kent. Britain was converted to Christianity from the north and the south, but by completely different traditions. Arguments broke out, even the shape of the monk's tonsure1 was disagreed upon, and the method of calculating the date of Easter became a major stumbling block for both sides. In 602 Augustine tried to persuade the British bishops to accept and conform to the Roman customs. The bishops refused, causing a complete breakdown in communications between both sides.

Chad's Education

As a boy, Chad was a student of Aidan at the monastery on Lindisfarne, where he received his monastic education before moving to Ireland. In Ireland, he studied with Ecgberht before entering the priesthood.

It is known that Chad was one of four brothers. His elder brother Cedd also entered monastic services. It is also known that Cedd came to Mercia in 653, when this area of the Middle Angles converted to Christianity. Later, when Chad returned to Britain, it is possible he worked with his brother, helping to instruct and baptise the newly converted people.

From Mercia, Cedd first travelled to work with the East Saxons, before eventually heading north to establish a monastery at Laestingaeu; later to become known as Lastingham in Yorkshire. Chad followed his brother and upon Cedd's death from plague, Chad became the next Abbot of Lastingham, in 664.

A synod was held in Whitby, in 664. This was to decide which method for determining the date of Easter was correct. After listening to both sides and the ensuing arguments, King Oswy declared the Roman tradition to be the correct method. Most clergy accepted this decision, but some Celtic clerics refused to conform. Later it was decreed that new bishops were to be ordained in the presence of three bishops of the Roman church. This was later to have a direct effect upon Chad's future in the priesthood.

The following year, 665, Wilfrid, the Abbot of Ripon was sent to France, where he was consecrated as the bishop of the Northumbrians, in the see of York.

Bishop of York?

Now it seems Wilfrid enjoyed himself in France, and appears to have forgotten to come back to tend his flock. Chad was summoned from Lastingham to York, to be consecrated as bishop instead. Wini, the bishop of the West Saxons was the only bishop of the Roman tradition and performed the consecration, the other two bishops were followers of the British Celtic tradition, thus going against the decree of 664. When Wilfrid finally returned, he found Chad had taken his place, so retired to his abbey at Ripon.

When Theodore of Tarsus became the new Archbishop of Canterbury in 669, he immediately began to change the structure of the English church. During his reforms, he found out about the consecration of Chad and declared it void.

Chad's words are recorded in the Ecclesiastical History of Bede, written in 731:

If you know I have not duly received episcopal ordination, I willingly resign the office, for I never thought myself worthy of it; but, though unworthy, in obedience submitted to undertake it.

Seeing Chad's humility, Theodore completed his consecration according to the Roman rites, although Wilfrid was still to remain as Bishop of York. So Chad returned to Lastingham.

The First Bishop of Lichfield

Later that same year King Wulfhere of Mercia requested to have a bishop; Theodore sent Chad, who took over the church which was dedicated to St Mary. It is thought to be on the site of the present Cathedral. The church at Stowe - St Chad's Church - is thought to stand on the original site of the 'house near the church', where it is thought Chad would stay privately with a number of brethren to pray or study; depending on his other work and commitments. There had been many other bishops working in Mercia, but it was to Chad that the see2 was fixed at Lichfield. So it was, in 669, that Chad became the first Bishop of Lichfield.

Eager to carry out his missionary and pastoral works, Chad spent most of his time travelling the huge kingdom of Mercia. Having been brought up under the Celtic traditions, he made most of his journeys on foot, as did the apostles. The Archbishop of Canterbury requested Chad use a horse, but, unwilling to put himself above the common man, Chad refused. According to Bede's writings, Theodore was recorded as lifting Chad bodily onto a horse.

The plague arrived in Lichfield two and a half years later. Chad was to lose many of his brethren during that time.

One day, a monk was working in the fields close to Chad's house. This monk, named Owini, said he heard the sound of heavenly singing descending from the skies onto the oratory where Chad was praying. After about half an hour, the singing returned to the heavens. Chad summoned his monks, first requesting they live good Christian lives and to continue keeping the rules of the monastic discipline, he then informed them he was to die soon. Once the other brothers had left, Owini begged Chad to tell him what the singing had been. Chad said he had been visited by the angelic spirits. They had come to summon him to heaven and would return for him in seven days.

Chad quickly became ill and died on 2 March, 672, exactly seven days later:

His holy soul was released from the prison-house of the body and, one may rightly believe, was taken by the angels to the joys of Heaven.
- A modern translation from the writings of the Venerable Bede as dictated to him by Trubmerct, one of St Chad's monks and disciples.

St Chad

Chad was buried in St Mary's. According to Bede, he was venerated as a saint. His relics were then moved to the Cathedral Church of St Peter. Miracle cures were claimed at both churches; Bede went on to describe the first shrine as:

A wooden coffin in the shape of a little house, with an aperture in the side through which the devout can...take out some dust, which they put into water and give to the sick cattle or men to drink, upon which they are presently eased of their infirmity and restored to health.
- From Trubmerct, as above.

Removal of the Relics

Chad's relics were moved into the Lady Chapel in 1296. Later, Robert Stretton, Bishop of Lichfield (1360 - 85) had a more splendid shrine built from marble, which was adorned with gold and precious stones. Another Bishop of Lichfield, Rowland Lee (1534 - 43) pleaded with Henry VIII to spare the shrine, and for a while this was done. But, as this was the time when Henry VIII banished the cult of relics in England, it was thought safer if loyal Roman Catholics were to take some of the relics into safe-keeping. At some unknown date, the head and some other bones were taken from the shrine. It is claimed they were saved by the FitzHerberts of Staffordshire and their cousins in Derbyshire. Later, during the English Civil War, the relics were hidden at Aston Hall. Four large bones, believed to be Chad's, are in the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Birmingham.

Modern Times

The dating of Easter was to be further defined during the 1700s, when the Gregorian Calendar was published.

Carbon dating was carried out on the bones, and on 14 June, 1996, the findings were released to the public by Dr Angela Boyle:

The findings suggest strongly that the majority of the bones fit the history of St Chad. The relics consist of six bones. Five of these have been discovered to date from the 6th or 7th Century, the sixth bone to the 8th or 9th Century. One of the group of five bones is larger than the other four. This, together with the fact that the relics contain three legs, point to the inclusion of two other individuals. The explanation suggested is that when Chad's bones were re-buried near the site of the present Lichfield Cathedral, bones from other graves may have been gathered up with his.

The Archbishop of Birmingham later issued a decree authorising 'the continued cult of the relics in view of the results of the scientific investigation'. He was to further declare that future veneration should only be given to all the relics together; this is to ensure that no particular bone is isolated from the rest.

1The shaved crown of the head.2The area of the diocese which contains the Cathedral.

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