02 March 2021
Saint Chad: celebrating
the saint and his life
in Lichfield Cathedral
In normal times, outside pandemic restrictions, Lichfield Cathedral celebrates the festival of Saint Chad, the patron saint of Lichfield Cathedral, on this day, 2 March. The celebrations usually begin with Solemn Evensong the previous evening (1 March), followed on the feast day of Saint Chad Morning Prayer, the mid-day Eucharist, Evening Prayer in the Chapter House and the Solemn Sung Eucharist at the High Altar, or the Patronal Eucharist.
Lichfield Cathedral commissioned local sculptor and its artist-in-residence, Peter Walker, last year to create a major new public sculpture of Saint Chad. Made of bronze and standing 3m tall in the Close facing Dam Street to welcome visitors and pilgrims to the Cathedral, he is to hold a representation of the eighth century Saint Chad Gospels in one hand, with his other hand raised in blessing.
The sculpture of Saint Chad was due to be unveiled at Lichfield Cathedral today, but Peter Walker announced on Instagram ‘we are delaying unveiling until later in the year so many more can enjoy his return to the Close.’
Next year, Saint Chad’s Day on 2 March 2022 marks 1,350 years since the saint’s death in 672. To prepare for this event Bishop Michael is launching a ‘Season of Pilgrimage,’ in which the people of the Diocese of Lichfield, with ecumenical partners and all interested in spiritual journeying, are invited to join in several ways.
Saint Chad, who died on 2 March 672, was a prominent seventh century Anglo-Saxon abbot who became the Bishop of the Northumbrians and subsequently Bishop of the Mercians or Lichfield. He features strongly in the work of Venerable Bede and, alongside his brother Saint Cedd, he is credited with introducing Christianity to the Mercian kingdom.
Much of what we know about Saint Chad comes from the writings of the Venerable Bede, who gleaned details about Saint Chad and Saint Cedd from the monks of Lastingham, where both brothers were abbots.
Saint Chad was one of four brothers: the others were Cedd, Cynibil and Caelin. Chad seems to have been younger than Cedd, and the four brothers seem to have been from a family of Northumbrian nobility. However, the name Chad is Celtic, rather than Anglo-Saxon in origin, and it is found in the personal names of many Welsh princes and nobles.
Bede says that in his early life Saint Chad was a student of Saint Aidan in his monastery in Lindisfarne, along his own brother Cedd. Chad later travelled to Ireland as a monk, before he was ordained as a priest.
Bede says Saint Chad and his companion Egbert travelled together to Ireland while Finan and Colmán were Bishops at Lindisfarne. This indicates they went to Ireland after Saint Aidan died in 651. Egbert later recalled that he and Saint Chad ‘followed the monastic life together very strictly – in prayers, in continence and in meditation on Holy Scripture.’
Saint Chad’s time in Ireland fits into the period 651-664, for in 664 he was back in Northumbria to take over from his brother Cedd, who was stricken by the plague.
During Chad’s lifetime, there was continuing conflict between Northumbria and Mercia. Penda, the pagan king of Mercia, continually campaigned against Northumbrian rulers, usually with the support of the Christian Welsh princes. In 641, Penda inflicted a crushing defeat on the Northumbrians, killing King Oswald. Northumbria was not fully reunited by Oswald’s successor, Oswiu, until 651. Oswiu then defeated and killed Penda in 655, causing the decline of Mercia for a more than a decade, and allowing the Northumbrian rulers to intervene in Mercian affairs.
Bede does not conceal the fact that Saint Chad departed from Roman practices in vital ways – before and after the Synod of Whitby. But the course of Saint Chad’s life between his time in Ireland and his emergence as a Church leader is unknown, and fresh details emerge again only with Bede’s account of Cedd’s career and the founding of their monastery at Lastingham.
Saint Cedd became a prominent figure in the Church in Northumbria while Saint Chad was in Ireland. Oswiu sent him on a difficult mission to the Middle Angles or Mercia in 653. He was recalled after a year, was sent on a similar mission to the East Saxons, and he was consecrated bishop soon after. Later, Saint Cedd became Abbot of Lastingham.
Saint Chad reappears on the Church scene in 664, shortly after the Synod of Whitby (663-664), when many Church leaders had died of the plague. When Cedd died, Saint Chad succeeded him as the Abbot at Lastingham.
When Saint Colmán, Bishop of the Northumbrians, left for Scotland after the Synod of Whitby decided against him, he was succeeded by Tuda, who lived for only a short time after.
Later, King Oswiu invited Saint Chad to become Bishop of the Northumbrians. He travelled to Canterbury for his consecration, but found that Archbishop Deusdedit had died and had not been replaced. He then travelled to Wessex, where he was consecrated by Bishop Wini of the West Saxons and two Welsh bishops.
Bede recalls that, as a bishop, Saint Chad visited the towns, countryside, cottages, villages and houses in order to preach the Gospel.
Bishop Wilfrid returned to his diocese in 666 to find he had been replaced as bishop by Saint Chad and asserted his episcopal authority by going into Mercia and as far as Kent to ordain priests.
A new Archbishop of Canterbury, Theodore of Tarsus, arrived in England in 669. He instructed Chad to step down in favour of Wilfrid. Yet, Theodore was so impressed by Chad’s humility that he confirmed his episcopal consecration. Saint Chad then retired gracefully and resumed his post as Abbot of Lastingham.
Later that same year, King Wulfhere of Mercia, the Christian son of Penda, requested a bishop for Mercia. Archbishop Theodore called Saint Chad out of his retirement in Lastingham.
Archbishop Theodore was greatly impressed by Chad’s humility and holiness, including his refusal to use a horse, walking everywhere instead. However, despite his regard for Saint Chad, Archbishop Theodore ordered him to ride on long journeys and on one occasion even lifted him into the saddle.
Saint Chad then became the fifth bishop of the Mercians, with a territory centred on the middle Trent and lower Tame – the area around Lichfield, Tamworth, and Repton.
Because Wulfhere donated land in Lichfield for Saint Chad to build a monastery, the centre of the Diocese of Mercia became settled on Lichfield. Lichfield was beside the old Roman road of Watling Street, the main route across Mercia, and a short distance from Mercia’s main royal centre in Tamworth. But the Diocese of Mercia was expansive, stretching across England, from coast to coast.
Saint Chad’s monastic house in Lichfield may have been similar to the monastery in Lastingham, and it was partly staffed by monks from Lastingham. Indeed, Saint Chad remained Abbot of Lastingham for the rest of his life.
When he became bishop, Saint Chad set out to initiate much missionary and pastoral work in Mercia, and, according to Bede, he governed the diocese ‘in the manner of the ancient fathers and in great perfection of life.’ He built a small house at Lichfield, a short distance from the church, large enough for his eight disciples.
However, Saint Chad worked in Mercia for only 2½ years before he too died of the plague on 2 March 672. He was buried at the Church of Saint Mary, which later became part of Lichfield Cathedral.
Many years later, his friend Egbert told a visitor that someone in Ireland had seen the heavenly company coming for Saint Chad’s soul and returning with it to heaven. However the story is also told of Saint Owini the hermit of Lichfield (4 March)
According to Bede, Saint Chad was venerated as a saint immediately after his death, and his relics were translated to a new shrine. There he was revered throughout the Middle Ages. His tomb was in the apse, directly behind the high altar of the cathedral while his skull was kept in a special chapel, above the south aisle.
When Saint Chad died in 672, pilgrims began to visit his shrine. In 700, Bishop Hedda built a new church to house the saint’s bones. From 1085 into the 12th century, the Saxon church was replaced by a Norman cathedral, and then by the Gothic cathedral begun in 1195.
Pilgrimages to the shrine of Saint Chad continued for many years. The cathedral was expanded by the addition of a Lady Chapel, and by 1500 there were as many as 20 altars around the Cathedral.
At the dissolution of the shrine at the same time as the dissolution of the monasteries in 1538, Canon Arthur Dudley of Lichfield Cathedral removed and retained some relics. They passed from him to his nieces, Bridget and Katherine Dudley of Russells Hall. In 1651, they were found again in the home of a dying farmer, Henry Hodgetts, who gave them to the Jesuit priest who heard his last confession. They were later moved to the Seminary at St Omer in France.
Lichfield Cathedral was severely damaged during the Civil War, coming under siege three times in the mid-17th century. Bishop John Hacket restored Lichfield Cathedral in the 1660s, and William Wyatt made substantial changes in the 18th century, but Saint Chad’s relics never returned to the cathedral.
The relics came into the possession of Sir Thomas Fitzherbert-Brockholes of Aston Hall, near Stone, Staffordshire, in the early 19th century. After his death, they were presented to Bishop Thomas Walsh, the Roman Catholic Vicar Apostolic of the Midlands, in 1837 and were enshrined in Saint Chad’s Cathedral, Birmingham, in a new shrine designed by Augustus Pugin.
Meanwhile, the architect Sir George Gilbert Scott was responsible for the successful restoration of Lichfield Cathedral to its mediaeval splendour in 1858-1878.
The Chapel of Saint Chad’s Head in Lichfield Cathedral recalls that the saint’s skull was kept here until the Reformation. The site of his mediaeval shrine is also marked in the cathedral.
Saint Chad’s Well, where Saint Chad is said to have baptised his converts, is in the churchyard at Saint Chad’s Church close to Lichfield Cathedral.
Today, Lichfield Cathedral still stands at the heart of the Diocese of Lichfield and is a focus for the regular worship of God, the life of a thriving community, the work of God in the wider world, and for pilgrimage.
The centre piece of the ‘Season of Pilgrimage’ announced by Bishop Michael Ipgrave is the initiation of a new pilgrim route from Lindisfarne to Lichfield, marking the missionary journey of Saint Chad from Holy Island in Northumbria to Lichfield Cathedral in Mercia.
Small groups will walk this route between summer 2021 and March 2022 in a staged relay. The pilgrimage will begin on Lindisfarne following the unveiling of Peter Walker’s new statue of Saint Chad at the Cathedral in June and will end at Lichfield Cathedral on Saint Chad’s Day 2022.
Bishop Michael said earlier today, ‘A season of pilgrimage, on whatever scale and in whatever register of reality, is a timely opportunity for us as our churches and communities prepare to open up physically and to reach out again. Pilgrimage links us up with one another, reminds us of those who have gone before us, and points us to the future hope to which our God invites us.’
He added: ‘Whether we travel physically or in other ways, as we follow Christ in the footsteps of Saint Chad I hope that this can be our prayer:
You call us, Lord,
to leave familiar things and to leave our places of security.
May we open our eyes to new experiences,
may we open our ears to hear you speaking to us
and may we open our hearts to your love.
Grant that our time spent on pilgrimage
may help us to see ourselves as we really are
and may we strive to become the people you would have us be. Amen’
from the fruits of the English nation who turned to Christ,
you called your servant Chad
to be an evangelist and bishop of his people:
give us grace so to follow his peaceable nature,
humble spirit and prayerful life,
that we may truly commend to others
the faith which we ourselves profess;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.