St Chad, Bishop & Confessor, Apostle to Mercia
Born: c.AD 623 in Northumbria
Abbot of Lastingham
Bishop of York
Bishop of Lichfield
Died: 2nd March AD 672 at Lichfield, Staffordshire
St. Chad, or Ceadda, was the youngest of the four brothers: Cedd, Cynebil, Celin and Chad, all eminent priests. Despite attempts to claim him as both a Scottish and an Irish saint, he was certainly an Angle, born of noble parents in Northumbria around AD 623. Bede tells us that St. Chad, along with his elder brothers, was a pupil of St. Aidan at his Lindisfarne school. The bishop required the young men who studied with him to spend much time in reading Holy Writ and in learning, by heart, large portions of the Psalter, which they would require in their devotions. Upon the death of Aidan, in AD 651, the four young men were to Ireland to complete their training. The Emerald Isle was then full of men of learning and piety, and Chad, there, made the acquaintance of Egbert, afterwards Abbot of Iona.
Meanwhile, Chad’s brother, Cedd, had returned to England and evangelised the East Saxons. In AD 658, at the request of King Aethelwald of Deira, he also established a monastery at Lastingham in Yorkshire, standing just on the edge of the North York Moors. Though often absent, he frequently returned thither from his London diocese and, at a time of the AD 664 plague, he died there. Upon his death-bed, Cedd bequeathed the care of the monastery to his brother, Chad, who was then still in Ireland.
On his return, St. Chad ruled the Lastingham Abbey with great care and prudence, and received all who sought his hospitality with kindness and humility. However, he arrived in Northumbria during a period of religious change and political upheaval. Having, at the Synod of Whitby, rejected the ways of the Irish Church in favour of those of Rome, the Northern diocese quickly found itself short of a Bishop. Eventually, the heavily pro-Roman and, therefore to some factions, unpopular St. Wilfred given the Northumbrian Bishopric which he transferred to York. Arrogant to the last, he insisted on being consecrated by true followers of the Roman rule, as only to be found in France and was absent some months.
The following year (AD 665), while St. Wilfred was still abroad, King Oswiu of Northumbria became impatient for some religious guidance in his kingdom and decided to send Chad to Kent to be ordained Bishop of the Northern Church. He was accompanied by the King’s Chaplain, Edhed, who was, some years afterwards, made Abbot of Ripon. However, upon their arrival in Canterbury, the two priests found that Archbishop Deusdedit had died of the Plague. His successor, Wigheard, was journeying to Rome for his consecration and Bishop Ithamar of Rochester was too close to death to be of any help. So they turned aside to Wessex where, at Dorchester-on-Thames, they were greeted by Bishop Wine. He was the only canonically ordained bishop available in England, yet the required ceremony demanded three. Wine therefore called upon two Welsh and/or Cornish Bishops to help him and St. Chad was duly consecrated Bishop of York in Dorchester Cathedral.
Bishop Chad began, at once, to apply himself to the practice of humility, continence and study. He travelled about his new diocese, not on horseback, but after the manner of the apostles, on foot, to preach the gospel in the towns and the open countryside, according to the example of both St. Aidan and his late brother, Cedd. Wilfred returned to England in AD 666 and, finding himself, deposed, quietly retired to his Abbey at Ripon. He remained, however, an opponent of Chad who was constantly criticised for the manner of his consecration. Three years later, Theodore of Tarsus, a new Archbishop arrived in Canterbury from the Continent. Being naturally a staunch supporter of the Roman doctrine, he soon charged Chad with holding an uncanonical office. The northern prelate humbly replied that if this were true, he would willingly resign for he never thought himself worthy of the position and had only consented out of a sense of duty. Theodore was so moved that he completed Chad’s ordination himself in the Roman manner. Though the latter still preferred to resign in favour of Wilfred and he thus retired to Lastingham. Though Chad was Bishop of York for so short a time, he left his mark on the affections of the people, for we find that at least one chantry was dedicated in his name at York Minster.
In AD 669, Bishop Jaruman of Mercia died and King Wulfhere asked Archbishop Theodore to send his people a new Christian leader. The primate did not wish to consecrate a fresh bishop, so he persuaded King Oswiu to release Chad from the Abbacy of Lastingham to be the new Mercian Bishop. Soon after his election, Chad set out for Repton in Derbyshire, where Diuma, the first Bishop of Mercia, had established his see. Theodore, knowing that it was Chad’s custom to travel on foot, bade him ride, whenever he had a long journey to perform. However, finding Chad unwilling to comply, the archbishop was forced to lift him onto his horse, with his own hands, and oblige him to ride.
Chad did not stay long at Repton, but removed the centre of the Mercian See to Lichfield in Staffordshire. Whether this was through a desire for a more central position or was influenced by a wish to do honour to a spot enriched with the blood of martyrs is unknown. For Licetfield was then thought to translate as “Field of the Dead” where one thousand British Christians were said to have been butchered. Possibly also, he wished to be closer to the popular Royal Palace at Tamworth.
Chad’s new diocese was not much less in extent than that of Northumbria. It comprised seventeen counties and stretched from the banks of the Severn to the shores of the North Sea. For the dioceses of Worcester, Leicester, Lindsey and Hereford had still to be detached. Though such an area may be thought far beyond the power of one man to administer effectively, Chad apparently rose to the challenge. King Wulfhere gave him the land of fifty families upon which to build a monastery, at the place called Ad Barve (At the Wood) in Lindsey, conjectured to be Barton-on-Humber, where the ancient Saxon church still stands. Though it was almost certainly Barrow in the same region.
Chad built himself a small oratory beside Stowe Pool at Lichfield. It adjoined a large well and a small church (St. Chad’s), not far from his new cathedral. He would emerse himself naked in the deep well every morning and meditate in the icy waters before setting out around his diocese to care for the needy. When time allowed, Chad was also wont to pray and read with seven or eight other brethren in his cell. If it happened that there blew a strong gust of wind, when he was reading or doing anything else, he at once called upon the Lord for mercy. If it blew stronger, he, prostrating himself, prayed more earnestly. But if it proved a violent storm of wind or rain, or of thunder and lightning, he would pray and repeat Psalms in the church till the weather became calm. He explained to his followers that the Lord moves the air, raises the winds, darts lightning and thunders from heaven to excite the inhabitants of the Earth to fear him, to dispel their pride, vanquish their boldness and to put them in mind of their future judgement.
It was to Bishop Chad’s little cell that Prince Wulfade of Mercia happened to chase a handsome deer whilst out hunting one day. Struck by the words of the pious holyman, the prince allowed himself to be baptised in the Bishop’s well. His brother, Rufine, soon followed suit. Their father, King Wulfhere, had relapsed into Paganism and was furious at his sons. Having his mind further poisoned by their enemy – a thane named Werbode – he rode out and slew them both with his own hands. Immediately stung with remorse, however, the King fell ill and was counselled by his queen to ask Chad to give him absolution. As a penance, the saint told him to build several abbeys and, amongst the number, he completed Peterborough Minster (Cathedral), which his brother had begun. He was converted to Christianity and, often afterwards, sought the Bishop’s advice.
After a rule of two and a half years, a deadly plague began to ravage the Midlands. Many of the Lichfield brethren were felled by the disease and it was not long before Bishop Chad’s time came near. This was heralded by a heavenly audition, witnessed by Owin, a monk of great merit who had joined Chad at Lastingham from the entourage of St. Etheldreda, whilst he worked outside the Bishop’s oratory. Chad immediately called upon him to gather the brethren, then praying in the church, around him. He encouraged them to preserve the virtue of peace amongst them and follow his example in all things when he had gone. He explained to Owin that his death would come to pass within seven days, and so it did.
Chad died on the 2nd March AD 672 and was first buried in St. Mary’s Church at Lichfield. Like many cathedrals of the time, however, there were many churches in the Episcopal complex and when the Church of St. Peter was completed, his bones were translated thither. Frequent miraculous cures were attested in both places.
Though Chad’s episcopate was short, it was abundantly esteemed by the warm-hearted Mercians, for thirty-one churches are dedicated in his honour, all in the midland counties, either in or near the ancient diocese of Lichfield. His relics were translated to the present Cathedral, when it was rebuilt by Bishop Roger, in honour of SS. Mary and Chad. There, they reposed in a beautiful shrine erected by Bishop Walter Langton in his newly-built Lady Chapel from the early 14th century until the Reformation. Some of them were saved from destruction and are now on display in Birmingham Roman Catholic Cathedral.
Chad’s emblem is a branch, perhaps this was suggested by the Gospel of St. John which speaks of the fruitful branches of the vine. This was formerly read on the Feast of Chad’s Translation, which was celebrated with great pomp at Lichfield every 2nd August. However, he is most easily recognised in art through his cradling a little church with three spires, ie. Lichfield Cathedral.