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A PREACHER IN COTTAGES AND CASTLES

Father Francis's picture
Saint Chad

Shortly after St. Augustine was sent from Rome to minister to the English, a future saint was born in the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria. Chad continued that seventh century missionary work, serving his own people and building up the Church in England.

One of four brothers who all entered holy orders, he was educated at Lindisfarne where he was trained by St. Aidan, and then spent a short time in Ireland. His older brother founded a monastery at Lastingham on the Yorkshire moors and Chad became its Abbott when he was appointed Bishop of the East Saxons.

Within a year the bishopric of York became vacant and King Oswin of Northumbria wanted Chad to fill the post. But the king’s son already had chosen Wilfrid of Ripon who travelled to France to be consecrated by the Bishop of Paris, delaying his return for so long that King Oswin urged Chad to accept the appointment. He eventually agreed and in 665 was consecrated Bishop of York, earning a reputation for being hard-working and dedicated. Like his teacher, Aidan, he led a life of simplicity and missionary zeal, and continued the tradition of the Celtic Church. He is described by St. Bede as "a holy man, modest in his ways, learned in the Scriptures and careful to practise all he found in them.” He was devoted to his flock and travelled among them preaching, as Bede says, “in cottages and castles.” He always went on foot, rather than riding, so that he could be close to the people.

A new Archbishop of Canterbury, Theodore, arrived from Rome in 669 and examined the dispute over the bishopric of York, judging in favour of Wilfrid. When Chad humbly offered to resign, saying that he had never felt worthy of the position and would gladly return to Lastingham, he impressed Theodore with his sincerity. He appointed him Bishop of Mercia and insisted that Chad should now take life more easily by making his pastoral journeys on horseback.

Chad transferred the seat of the Mercian diocese from Repton to Lichfield, a place which was reputed to be the site of early Christian martyrdom. There he built a retreat house where he often liked to retire with the small community of monks. King Wulfhere of the Mercians (the father of St. Werburgh) gave Chad some land in Lincolnshire on which to build a monastery.

Chad died in Lichfield on 2 March 673, a victim of a plague epidemic. Although Bishop of Mercia for less than three years, he was held in great affection. His name is remembered in many towns and villages in the Midlands and North West of England, such as Cheadle, Chadderton and Chadkirk, and several wells are associated with his ministry.

Chad is a home-grown saint of whom English people can be proud. Let us ask him to continue to care for his people and inspire some of them to follow his example by entering the religious life.