Looking at the Liturgical Calendar this week one saint stood out for me – St Richard of Chichester. On a personal level I like the name and an English friend of mine, now deceased was called Richard. An interesting aspect of this particular saint is that he is also venerated in the Anglican Church as well as having written a prayer which was set to popular music!
Richard was born in 1197 in Worcestershire, the son of a yeoman farmer. Sadly he and his brother were orphaned at an early age, but he worked very hard on the family farm for years, thereby restoring the family fortunes lost through debt. After refusing an advantageous offer of marriage he chose instead to study for the priesthood. So began an excellent education at Oxford, Paris and Bologna as well as Orleans where he studied with the Dominicans. He devoted seven Years to Canon Law ( Special Laws of the Church ) and gained a Doctorate in same.
After his ordination he was parish priest at Charing and at Deal. Between 1235-37 he was chosen for the office of bishop by the Canons of Chichester when their See became vacant. In those days there were many conflicts between kings and bishops. Henry III (r. 1216-1272) was furious that the man he wanted appointed by bishop had been turned down, so he refused to recognise Richard. However the Pope, Innocent IV, was on Richard’s side and duly consecrated him bishop at Lyons in 1245.
Richard returned to Chichester but it would be two years before the King, threatened with excommunication by the pope, would agree to accept Richard into the palace at Chichester. In the meanwhile Richard lived at Tarring, in the parish priest’s house, visited his diocese on foot, and cultivated figs in his spare time.
An Example among Bishops
Early in the 13th Century, Pope Innocent III had called for reform of the church to raise the standards of the parish clergy, educating them in the need for moral discipline. Bishop Richard was fully supportive of this drive and was viewed by his peers as a model diocesan bishop. Charitable and accessible, both stern and merciful to sinners, extraordinarily generous to those stricken by famine, he was also a legislator for his diocese. The sacraments were to be administrated without payment, Mass celebrated in dignified conditions; the clergy must observe celibacy, live in their parishes and wear proper clerical dress. The laity were obliged to attend Mass on Sundays and holy days and to know by hear the Hail Mary as well as the Lord’s Prayer and the Creed.
Richard was greatly loved by the people, so much so that his shrine at Chichester Cathedral was a popular place of pilgrimage, until it was destroyed in 1538 during the first stages of the English Reformation. One of the factors that set him apart from other clergy were the apparent miracles that he performed during and after his life.
One of these happened at Cakeham Manor, on the Selsey peninsula. One night while a procession was taking place in the open a strong wind blew out all the candles those walking were holding aloft. Shortly after it was noticed that Bishop Richard’s candle had not been touched.
The miracle for which he is chiefly known is that of the overturned chalice. The story goes that Richard, worn out from his labours, was celebrating Mass and dropped the chalice containing the consecrated wine. Amazingly, none spilled out on the floor. This miracle is depicted on the coat of arms of St Richard as a cross with a cup in each quarter of the shield. The statue of St Richard by Harry Hems, 1894 in the cathedral, shows an upright chalice at his feet.
Richard is widely remembered today for the popular prayer ascribed to him:
‘Thanks be to Thee my Lord Jesus Christ
For all the benefits Thou hast given me,
For all the pains and insults Thou has borne for me.
O most merciful redeemer, friend and brother
May I know Thee more clearly,
Love Thee more dearly,
Follow Thee more nearly.’
He is supposed to have recited this on his deathbed surrounded by the clergy of the diocese. The words were taken down, in Latin, by his Confessor Ralph Bocking, a Dominican friar. The prayer would eventually be adapted for the song Day by Day in the musical ‘Godspell’ (1971). Many of us who grew up then will remember that well!
Bishop Richard died in Dover in 1253. Today his shrine in Chichester Cathedral has undergone refurbishment made possible by the generosity of many friends and co-workers of the late Bishop Kemp, who often said that he wished the Shrine could be restored and made worthy of Sussex’s own dear St Richard.
Written by Marie-Therese Cryan
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