So many of the saints we remember through the year are of Celtic or Anglo-Saxon origins. St Chad may well have been a mix of both. He was educated by St Aidan on Lindisfarne and lived through the time of transition after the Synod of Whitby when the Roman church took precedence over the Celtic church in England. It was a time when plague was rife and many church leaders died as a result. This added to the confusion of the times. Chad found himself consecrated bishop but accused of having reached that point irregularly. Despite all the changes going on around him, Chad lived out an exemplary Christian life as abbot of Lastingham and Bishop of York and then of Lichfield.
St Chad was remembered on 2nd March. The readings in the 2pm service were Psalm 95: 1-7, Philippians 4:10-13, Luke 14:1, 7-14. To find out more about Chad, read on.
St. Chad was born around 623 AD to noble Angle parents in Northumbria. As his name is Celtic in origin there may have been some mixed background in his family. He was the youngest of four brothers: Cedd, Cynebil and Celin, who were all priests. Much of what we know about Chad comes from the writings of the Venerable Bede. All four of the brothers studied on Lindisfarne with St Aidan who insisted that they spent much of their time reading the Bible and learning the Psalms off by heart.
Aidan died in 651 AD and Chad went to Ireland in order to finish his education. There were many well educated and pious men in Ireland at the time. Chad met Egbert, who later became Abbot of Iona, among others. Egbert was of a similar age to Chad. The two travelled together in Ireland to gain more education, going from person to person to gain knowledge of the faith.
Cedd spent time evangelising the East Saxons and founded a monastery at Lastingham in North Yorkshire in 658 AD. He died there in 664 AD of the plague as did many church leaders of the time. As he lay dying Cedd bequeathed the care of the monastery to Chad, who was probably still in Ireland at the time. Chad was a wonderful leader of the monastery, acting with kindness and humility. Prayer and study took up much of the time of the life in the monastery. It is said that Chad would stop studying if a gale started so that he could pray to God to have pity on people. If the storm got worse he would give himself wholly to prayer until it passed. He often went into the church to pray and sing psalms until the storm was over. Chad’s monks asked him why he did this and he explained, “God thunders forth from heaven to rouse people to fear the Lord, to call them to remember the future judgment…when God will come in the clouds in great power and majesty to judge the living and the dead. And so we ought to respond to God’s heavenly warning with due fear and love so that as often as God disturbs the sky, yet spares us still, we should implore God’s mercy, examining the innermost recesses of our hearts and purging out the dregs of our sins, and behave with such caution that we may never deserve to be struck down.”
This was the time of transition after the Synod of Whitby, when the church in England was moving away from Celtic ways to Roman ones. Wilfred became Bishop of Northumbria at this time but decided to transfer his seat to York. He was determined to do everything in accordance with the Roman way and so headed to France to be consecrated. This meant he was away for a period of months. King Oswy of Northumbria eventually became impatient and sent Chad to Canterbury to be ordained Bishop. The plague was common at that time and the Archbishop had died of it. His successor was on his way to Rome to be consecrated. The only canonically ordained bishop available in England was Bishop Wine of Wessex. It needed three bishops to consecrate so Bishop Wine asked two Welsh bishops to help him consecrate Chad as Bishop of York in Dorchester Cathedral.
Chad was a very humble person and chose to travel around his diocese on foot. He did this to emulate the apostles who had walked everywhere with Jesus. He preached in the towns and in the countryside, very much in the Celtic pattern as he had learnt from Aidan and his brother Cedd. When Wilfred finally returned to England in 666AD he found he had no place and so retired to his Abbey in Ripon.
Chad was criticised about his consecration as it was considered by some to be irregular. When a new Archbishop of Canterbury, Theodore, arrived from the continent he accused Chad of holding an uncanonical office. Far from being angered by this accusation, Chad agreed to stand down. He said, “If you decide that I have not rightly received the episcopal character, I willingly lay down the office; for I have never thought myself worthy of it, but under obedience, I, though unworthy, consented to undertake it”. Chad stood down as Bishop of York in favour of Wilfred and returned to Lastingham to run the monastery.
In 669 AD Archbishop Theodore was asked to provide a new bishop for Mercia and asked Chad to take on this role. Chad was faced with travelling long distances as a bishop and Theodore was aware that he usually walked. He asked Chad to ride if he had a long journey to make but Chad was reluctant to comply. Theodore then took matters into his own hands, lifting Chad on to the horse.
The centre of the diocese of Mercia had been Repton but Chad moved it to Lichfield which is now in Staffordshire. Chad administered a huge area in the centre of the country and did it well. He was given land by King Wulfhere and established a monastery in Barrow and also one in Lichfield. He built a small oratory for himself beside Stowe Pool at Lichfield which was not far from the new cathedral. There was a well there and Chad is said to have meditated naked every morning in the waters of the well before starting his day’s tasks.
There is a legend which tells how two of the king’s sons were out hunting one day and were led to Chad’s oratory by the deer they were chasing. They saw Chad praying on his knees, with his face shining in adoration of God. They knelt beside him and were baptized in the well. King Wulfhere had by this time returned to paganism. He was so angry at the news of his sons’ conversion that he killed them with his own hands. He wanted to also kill Chad but on approaching the bishop’s cell he saw a very bright light shining from the window which almost blinded him. He did not pursue Chad any more.
Two and a half years after becoming bishop, Chad’s diocese was hit by the plague. Chad had a vision which told him that he would die in seven days. He told Owin, his closest colleague, that angels had visited him and would return to take him to his heavenly reward on the appointed day. He spoke to the monks and told them that his death was approaching, calling it ‘that friendly guest who is used to visiting the brethren.’ Chad died on this day 672 AD and was buried in St Mary’s Church, Lichfield. Later he was moved to the Church of St Peter. Many miracles were said to have occurred in both places. Later Chad’s relics were placed in a beautiful shrine in Lichfield Cathedral. Some relics are still in existence in Birmingham Roman Catholic Cathedral.
Despite the short time that Chad was Bishop of Mercia, he is credited with bringing back the Christian faith to the area. Bede tells us that he governed ‘in the manner of the ancient fathers and in great perfection of life.’ Chad was regarded as a saint almost as soon as he had died.
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor