Saint of the Day – 3 April – St Richard of Chichester (1197-1253) also known as Richard de Wych – born in 1197 at Droitwich, Worcestershire, England as Richard de Wych – 3 April 1253 at Dover, Kent, England of natural causes. Bishop, Teacher, Reformer, apostle of charity, Writer, Miracle Worker. Patronages – coachmen, diocese of Chichester, England, Sussex, England. Attributes – Bishop with a chalice on its side at his feet because he once dropped the chalice during a Mass and nothing spilled from it; kneeling with the chalice before him; ploughing his brother’s fields; a bishop blessing his flock with a chalice nearby.
Richard was born, c 1197, in the little town of Wyche, eight miles from Worcester, England. He and his elder brother were left orphans when young and Richard gave up the studies which he loved, to farm his brother’s impoverished estate. His brother, in gratitude for Richard’s successful care, proposed to make over to him all his lands but he refused both the estate and the offer of a brilliant marriage, to study for the priesthood at Oxford.
In 1235 he was appointed, for his learning and piety, chancellor of that University and afterwards, by St Edmund of Canterbury, chancellor of his diocese. He stood by that Saint in his long contest with the king and accompanied him into exile. After St. Edmund’s death Richard returned to England to toil as a simple curate but was soon elected Bishop of Chichester in preference to the worthless nominee of Henry III. The king in revenge refused to recognise the election and seized the revenues of the see. Thus Richard found himself fighting the same battle in which St Edmund had died. He went to Lyons, was there consecrated as Bishop by Innocent IV in 1245 and returning to England, in spite of his poverty and the king’s hostility, exercised fully his episcopal rights and thoroughly reformed his see. After two years his revenues were restored.
Young and old loved St Richard. He gave all he had, and worked miracles, to feed the poor and heal the sick but when the rights or purity of the Church were concerned he was inexorable. When a priest of noble blood polluted his office by sin, Richard deprived him of his benefice and refused the king’s petition in his favour. On the other hand, when a knight violently put a priest in prison, Richard compelled the knight to walk round the priest’s church with the same log of wood on his neck to which he had chained the priest and when the burgesses of Lewes tore a criminal from the church and hanged him, Richard made them dig up the body from its unconsecrated grave and bear it back to the sanctuary they had violated.
Richard died in 1253, while preaching, at the Pope’s command, a crusade against the Saracens. He was Canonised in 1262 by Pope Urban IV at Viterbo, Papal States (part of modern Italy).
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 hast borne for me.
O most merciful Redeemer, friend and brother,
May I know Thee more clearly,
Love Thee more dearly,
Follow Thee more nearly.
Richard recited this prayer on his deathbed, surrounded by the clergy of the diocese. The words were transcribed, in Latin, by his confessor Ralph Bocking, a Dominican friar and were eventually published in the Acta Sanctorum, an encyclopedic text in 68 folio volumes of documents examining the lives of Christian saints. The British Library copy, contains what is believed to be Bockings transcription of the prayer:
Gratias tibi ago, Domine Jesu Christe, de omnibus beneficiis quae mihi praestitisti;
pro poenis et opprobriis, quae pro me pertulisti;
propter quae planctus ille lamentabilis vere tibi competebat.
Non est dolor similis sicut dolor meus
Many miracles were wrought at Richard’s tomb in Chichester cathedral, which was long a popular place of pilgrimage and in 1262, just 9 years after his death, he was canonizsed at Viterbo by Pope Urban IV. During the episcopate of the first Anglican bishop of Chichester, Richard Sampson, King Henry VIII of England, through his Vicar-General, Thomas Cromwell ordered the destruction of the Shrine of St Richard in Chichester cathedral in 1538.
“Forasmuch as we have lately been informed that in our cathedral church of Chichester there hath been used long heretoforeand yet at this day is used, much superstition and a certain kind of idolatry about the shrine and bones of a certain bishop of the same, whom they call Saint Richard and a certain resort there of common people, which being men of simplicity are seduced by the instigation of some of the clergy, who take advantage of their credulity to ascribe miracles of healing and other virtues to the said bones, that God only hath authority to grant. . . . . We have appointed you, with all convenient diligence to repair unto the said cathedral church and to take away the shrine and bones of that bishop called Saint Richard, with all ornaments to the said shrine belonging, and all other the reliques and reliquaries, the silver, the gold and all the jewels belonging to said shrine and that not only shall you see them to be safely and surely conveyed unto our Tower of London there to be bestowed and placed at your arrival but also ye shall see both the place where the shrine was kept, destroyed even to the ground and all such other images of the said church, where about any notable superstition is used, to be carried and conveyed away, so that our subjects shall by them in no ways be deceived hereafter but that they pay to Almighty God and to no earthly creature such honour as is due unto him the Creator. . . . . Given under our privy seal at our manor of Hampton Court, the 14th day of Dec., in the 30th year of our reign (1538). Document issued by Thomas Cromwell on behalf of Henry VIII.”
The document ordering the destruction of the shrine was issued to a Sir William Goring of Burton and a William Ernley. They received £40 for carrying out the commission on 20 December 1538. The Shrine of St. Richard had, up to this point, enjoyed a level of popularity approaching that accorded to Thomas Becket at Canterbury. It seems that someone associated with the parish of West Wittering in Sussex, possibly William Ernley, using his position as royal commissioner for the destruction of St Richard’s Shrine, may have spirited away the relics and bones of St Richard and hidden them in their own parish church, as there are persistent legends of the presence there, of the remains of the saint:
The Lady Chapel not only contains the Saxon Cross but also an ancient broken marble slab engraved with a Bishop’s pastoral staff and a Greek cross believed to have come from a reliquary containing the relics of St Richard of Chichester, a 13th century bishop who often visited West Wittering. Part of his story is shown in the beautiful red, white and gold altar frontal presented by Yvonne Rusbridge in 1976. On the left St Richard is shown feeding the hungry in Cakeham and on the right leading his followers from the church, his candle miraculously alight despite the gust of wind which blew out all the other candles.
The modern St Richard’s Shrine is located in the retro-quire of Chichester cathedral and was re-established in 1930 by Dean Duncan Jones. In 1987 during the restoration of the Abbey of La Lucerne, in Normandy, the lower part of a man’s arm was discovered in a reliquary, the relic was thought to be Richard’s. After examination, to establish its provenance, the relic was offered to Bishop Eric Kemp and received into the cathedral on 15 June 1990. The relic was buried in 1991 below the St Richard altar. A further relic, together with an authentication certificate, was offered from Rome at the same time and is now housed at the bishops chapel in Chichester. The modern shrine of Richard contains an altar that was designed by Robert Potter, a tapestry designed by Ursula Benker-Schirmer (partly woven in her studio in Bavaria and partly at the West Dean College) and an icon designed by Sergei Fyodorov (image below) that shows St Richard in episcopal vestments, his hand raised in blessing towards the viewer but also in supplication to the figure of Christ who appears to him from heaven.