Anyone who knows the musical Godspell has had contact with something written by Richard of Chichester, remembered on 16 June. It was he who wrote the prayer which famously includes: may I know thee more clearly, love thee more dearly and follow thee more nearly, day by day. In my reflection at the 2pm service I looked at further details of his life. The readings were Psalm 84:7-12, Philippians 4:10-13 and Matthew 25:31-40.
Richard was born in 1197 in a place called Wyche, now called Droitwich which is near Worcester in England. His father was prosperous and so he began life as a rather privileged child. However, he and his elder brother were orphaned early in life. The elder boy should have inherited the estate but he was too young and so a guardian was appointed. This guardian did not handle the estate well. Once the brother was old enough to take on the estate himself he had to pay tax and that was enough to wipe out the family fortune.
Richard left his education to help his brother by farming the land, determined to restore the family fortune. Richard’s hard work proved successful and his brother was so pleased that he proposed to hand all the land to Richard. At that time, friends attempted some matchmaking with a noble lady. Richard however turned down both land and marriage and went to Oxford as a scholar. He was very poor, so much so that he couldn’t afford an academic gown or to keep properly warm in winter, but he did very well in his studies. He studied canon law and may have gone on to study in Paris and Bologna. He eventually gained a doctorate and was appointed as Chancellor of Oxford in 1235. He was known for his learning and piety.
Later Edmund of Canterbury appointed him chancellor of his diocese. Edmund rebuked King Henry III as he kept bishoprics vacant for a long time, which allowed the income to go to the Crown. Edmund was forced into exile and Richard went with him to France. There he nursed Edmund until he died in 1240. Richard then studied in Orleans at a Dominican house and was ordained priest in 1242.
Richard returned to England to work as a parish priest at Charing and Deal. Not long afterwards he once more became chancellor of Canterbury. In 1244 he became Bishop of Chichester. Henry III was reluctant to accept him and locked him out of his official bishop’s palace and continued to receive the revenues from the diocese. King and Archbishop appealed to Pope Innocent IV who confirmed Richard as bishop and consecrated him in Lyon in March 1245. He didn’t receive the property due to him for two years until Henry was threatened with excommunication. Richard lived with a local village priest in Tarring and walked barefoot through his diocese for two years, meeting with the local people and preaching to them. He was loved by the poor and worked hard on their behalf. He grew figs in his spare time.
Richard was eager to counter abuses in the church. He held synods and was insistent that the sacraments were not to be paid for. He also maintained high standards in the way the liturgy was celebrated, wishing for reverence and order at all times. He required clergy to be celibate, to dress in clerical dress and to live in their parishes where they were to personally carry out their duties rather than delegating to others.
The laity didn’t escape either. He expected them to attend services every Sunday and holy day. They were to learn the Lord’s Prayer, Hail Mary and Apostles’ Creed by heart. Those who were excommunicated had their names read out in church four times a year.
Even when Henry relented and returned properties to Richard, he continued to live a simple life. He had become a vegetarian while at Oxford and lived in a similar frugal fashion from then on.
Richard was concerned that the Muslims in Jerusalem would not allow Christian pilgrims to enter the city. He travelled widely in 1253 in an attempt to recruit people for a new crusade as the pope had ordered him to. During this time he caught a fever and died in Dover at midnight on 3 April just after dedicating St Edmund’s Chapel there. Richard’s internal organs where placed in the altar of the newly dedicated chapel. His body was taken to Chichester and buried in the chapel at the north of the nave, as he had requested.
Miracles were reported by those who visited Richard’s tomb on pilgrimage. As a result he was canonised in 1262 by Pope Urban IV. Richard’s feast day is 3rd April but this falls in Lent or Eastertide often and so in the Anglican Communion we celebrate on 16 June.
You may not think you that you knew much about Richard of Chichester before today but the likelihood is that you have come across his famous prayer:
Thanks be to thee, my Lord Jesus Christ, for all the benefits thou hast given me, for all the pains and insults thou hast borne for me. O most merciful redeemer, friend and brother, may I know thee more clearly, love thee more dearly and follow thee more nearly, day by day.
I think it’s a prayer well worth echoing as we seek each day to grow nearer to God.
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor