25 May 2012

Among the saints in the sunshine

Saint Chad, among the kings and saints on the west front of Lichfield Cathedral ... Bede says he travelled to Ireland as a monk after studying in Lindisfarne and before he was ordained as a priest(Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)
Patrick Comerford

I am staying for the weekend at the Hedgehog in Lichfield, and the room I have been given, No 1, is called Saint Chad.

At Choral Evensong in Lichfield Cathedral this evening [25 May 2012], the Precentor, Canon Wealands Bell, reminded us that today we have been remembering the Venerable Bede, the Monk of Jarrow who is remembered as one of the earliest historians in England. And he told us how Bede is also our principal source for the life of Saint Chad, who is so intimately associated with the early story of Lichfield Cathedral and the Diocese of Lichfield.

Saint Chad takes centre place in the rows of saints and kings carved on the West Front of Lichfield Cathedral. But, despite popular perceptions, he was neither the first Bishop of Lichfield, nor was he the founder of the diocese.

The Diocese of Mercia was founded 656 by Diuma, and he and the first four bishops were either Irish or were educated in Irish monasteries and by Irish monks.
Bede says the first bishop, Diuma (or Dwyna or Duma), was Irish and that he was one of the four priests introduced to Mercia in 653 by Peada, son of King Penda of Mercia. Peada had become a Christian, and after Penda’s death, Diuma was consecrated bishop after 655 by Finan, Bishop of Lindisfarne. But while he was Bishop of Mercia, he had his seat at Repton. We do not know the date of his death.

Diuma’s successor, Ceollach (or Cellach) was born in Ireland. He left the diocese or resigned, and moved to the monastery of Iona before his death.

The next bishop, Trumhere (or Thumhere), was born in England but was educated in Ireland. He was the first Abbot of Gilling , founded on land donated by King Oswiu of Northumbria as penance for the death of King Oswine of Deira. When Trumhere was chosen as Bishop of Mercia about 658, he was consecrated by a Celtic bishop. He died about 662.

The fourth Bishop of Mercia, Jaruman (or Jarumann), was from Ireland too, although he was educated at Lindisfarne. He was involved in several missions to Saxon tribes before he died in 669. Some scholars suggest his name inspired JRR Tolkien when he named Saruman in The Lord of the Rings.

Saint Chad ... a modern icon in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Saint Chad was Jaruman’s successor as the fifth Bishop of Mercia, and he became the most prominent bishop in the history of the diocese. However, most of what we know about the saintly Chad comes from the writings of today’s saint, the Venerable Bede, who credits Saint Chad and his brother Cedd with introducing Christianity to the Mercian kingdom.

Bede tells us Saint Chad spent his early life as a student of Saint Aidan in the Celtic monastery in Lindisfarne, and Bede says the general pattern of Saint Chad’s ministry was shaped by the example of Saint Aidan, who was a disciple of Saint Columba and came to Northumbria from Iona.

Although Saint Chad was probably from an Anglo-Saxon family, he travelled to Ireland as a monk after studying in Lindisfarne and before he was ordained as a priest. Chad and Egbert were among a group of English scholars who went to in Ireland while Finan and Colmán were Bishops in Lindisfarne, so their arrival in Ireland was some time after Saint Aidan’s death in 651. So Saint Chad’s time in Ireland was between 651 and 664.

Saint Chad was the abbot of several monasteries, and then Bishop of the Northumbrians before becoming Bishop of Mercia. When Saint Chad became bishop in 669, he moved the seat of the diocese to Lichfield, and the diocese then took its name from the city. Saint Chad died on died 2 March 672.

In 691, the area was divided to form the smaller dioceses of Lichfield, Leicester, Lichfield, Lincoln, Worcester and Hereford. Later, Lichfield was briefly the seat of an archbishop from 787 to 799, with provincial authority in the Kingdom of Mercia and from the Humber to the Thames.

The bishop’s seat moved briefly to Chester in 1075, and then to Coventry in 1102, and from 1228 the bishops were known as Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield, with cathedrals in both places.

Lichfield Cathedral reflected in the sunshine this evening reflected in a window of the Cathedral Bookshop (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Some of the Deans of Lichfield from that time also had Irish connections: Stephen Seagrave (1319-1324) and Richard FitzRalph (1335-1346) later became Archbishops of Armagh.

At the time of the Anglican Reformation, Rowland Lee was said to have secretly married King Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn, the second of Henry’s six wives, on 25 January 1533. Ten days earlier it had been discovered she was pregnant with the future Elizabeth I. A year later, perhaps with little surprise, Rowland Lee was rewarded for his efforts and became the Bishop of Lichfield.

After the Reformation in the 1530s, the cathedral in Coventry was demolished, and from the Restoration of Charles II in 1660 the bishop was styled Bishop of Lichfield and Coventry. In 1837, the diocese was divided once again – the Coventry area was transferred to Diocese of Worcester and later became a separate diocese. Since then, the bishops have been known simply as Bishop of Lichfield.

Although it is difficult to say that there is anything simple about ecclesiastical life in Lichfield.

After Choral Evensong, I strolled around the Cathedral Close, back up Beacon Street and up Cross in Hand Lane, before returning to the Hedgehog, where I sat out in the late evening sun for dinner.

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