ST. CHAD: Outstanding Bishop of early Medieval England
634 – 672
Holy Family of Priests
If you’re ever in Birmingham, England do pass by the cathedral which bears St. Chad’s name and look for his relics. This is because he did a lot to Christianize this part of early Medieval England.
Chad (also known as Ceadda) came from a holy family which raised 3 other brothers all of whom were priests two of which became distinguished bishops. They were born in the Kingdom of Northumbria, England and were Angles by race. Chad’s elder brother Cedd and he were trained by famous St. Aidan at the great abbey of Lindisfarne. However when St. Aidan died Chad went to Ireland where he lived as a monk spending time with St. Egbert.
Abbot of Lindisfarne
After some years there his brother Cedd who was made Bishop of London recalled him to take charge of the Abbey of Lindisfarne which St. Aidan had founded on a wild and solitary spot on the Yorkshire moors. So Chad returned back to England as Abbot of Lindisfarne Monastery.
Bishop of York
However after only a year there Chad was summoned by King Oswy to become bishop of York as he found him to be “a holy man of modest character, well versed in the Scriptures and practicing with diligence what he had learnt from them.”
Since there was no bishop nearby to consecrate him the King sent him to the archbishop of Canterbury to do so. Unfortunately when he arrived there he discovered the archbishop had just died. So he continued on the Kingdom of the West Saxons where he was finally consecrated as bishop. However the ceremony seemed somewhat dubious in form.
So Chad returned to Northumbria and energetically began to evangelize the region. To show humility he travelled on foot rather than by horseback preaching the gospel everywhere instructing by acting by example.
Problem of Consecration
However another problem arose about his consecration. When King Oswy had appointed him bishop of York, he did not know that his son King Alefrid had already appointed St. Wilfrid bishop of York and sent him to France to be consecrated by St. Agilbert.
It was when St. Theodore, the new archbishop of Canterbury, arrived in England in 669 and visited for the first time Northumbria that he discovered what had taken place. He upheld Wilfrid’s claim and gave him the see.
When he met Chad he charged him of being improperly ordained.
Rather than becoming sulky and protesting Chad humbly said, “If you consider that I have not been properly consecrated, I willingly resign this charge of which I never thought myself worthy. I undertook it, though unworthy, under obedience.”
Taken aback and deeply impressed by Chad’s holiness and humility the archbishop supplied whatever was lacking in his Episcopal consecration and retired him back to Lastingham. But as soon as there was an opening when Jaruman, the Bishop of Mercian died he asked King Oswy to let Chad have that see.
However because of his age the Archbishop asked him to give up travelling on foot and go by horseback instead. To ensure his command the Archbishop himself with his own hands lifted Chad on a horse.
Outstanding Bishop of Mercia
The see of Mercia covered a huge area of the Midlands. Chad chose Lichfield as the seat of his diocese. When King Wulfhere gave him land he built a monastery at ‘Ad Barwae’ in the province of Lindsay and the abbey of Bardney. But near the church in Lichfield he built himself a house of retreat where he spent his last days and died there in 672.
Though he only spent two and half years in Mercia he proved to be an outstanding bishop and through unremitting hard work and the example of his virtue he made such a deep impression on his people that he is credited by the famous historian Bede with the Christianization of this ancient English kingdom of Mercia. A truly remarkable monastic founder at his death there were already 31 churches dedicated in his honor. Even several wells bear his name.
When plague stalked the land in 672, Chad already weakened by his strenuous work, fell victim to it.
Bede tells us a delightful story about his death. Several days before his death as he lay languishing in his retreat house near the church in Lichfield his friend Owen who was staying with him heard heavenly music fill the bishop’s oratory for about half an hour. Even peasants in the field heard it and drew near it in wonder. After this the bishop bade all the others to enter the oratory.
After exhorting them to keep peace among themselves and to practice fervently the rules and regulations, he announced that the day of his death was at hand for today the angels with their heavenly music were calling him home.
Chad was so well loved that even on the very day he died moves were made to declare him a saint as several miracles took place at his graveside.
SOURCES of REFERENCE
Butler’s Lives of the Saints – Vol I – pp 457 – 459
The Book of Saints – p. 63
Pocket Book of Saints – p. 115
The Watkin’s Dictionary of Saints – p. 53
Butler’s Saint for the Day – pp. 99 – 101
Saint Companions – pp 87 – 88