Walking with the Saints

Richard of Chichester

Today April 3rd is the feast day of Saint Richard in the Roman Catholic Church and some provinces of the Anglican Communion. Richard was born around the year 1197 in Wyche, (now known as Droitwich), near Worcester, England. He was the second son of the family. When their parents died, Richard and his siblings were very young. They were left in the care of guardians who mismanaged their father's estates and squandered the income. When Richard was older, he was forced to give up his studies in order to help his brother manage the estate. After they restored the estate, Richard’s brother offered to turn over all of his lands to Richard in grateful recognition for Richard's help during the difficult time and even arranged for Richard's marriage with a certain noble lady. However Richard rejected the proposals, preferring a life of study and the church. 

He went to study at Oxford. He was so poor that he ran about to get warm in winter and often ate only bread and thin vegetable soup. He shared one warm tunic and hooded gown with two friends, in which they attended lectures by turns. Richard soon began to teach in the university. From there he went on to earn a degree in Paris and a doctorate in Bologna, where he distinguished himself by his proficiency in canon law. He returned to England in 1235 and was elected as Oxford's chancellor for his learning and piety.

In 1237, his former tutor, Edmund of Abingdon, the archbishop of Canterbury appointed him chancellor of the diocese of Canterbury. Richard shared Edmund's ideals of clerical reform and supported papal rights even against the king. He joined the archbishop Edmund during his exile at Pontigny, and was with him when the archbishop died in 1240. Richard then decided to become a priest and studied theology for two years with the Dominicans at Orléans. He was ordained priest in 1243. Upon returning to England, Richard became the parish priest at Charing and at Deal, but soon was reappointed chancellor of Canterbury by the new archbishop Boniface of Savoy. In 1244, he was elected by the Canons of Chichester to be their Bishop. This election greatly displeased the king, Henry III, who had nominated another candidate whom the Canons rejected. The king, out of revenge, refused to recognize the election and seized the revenues of the see. Thus Saint Richard found himself fighting the same battle in which Saint Edmund had died. He went to Lyon, where he was consecrated bishop by Innocent IV in 1245. Then he returned to England to exercise his episcopal rights despite his poverty and the king's hostility. At first, he, "like a stranger in a strange land," became a wanderer in his own diocese. He was entirely dependent on the charity and hospitality of the people and clergy, who defied the King. He visited his entire diocese on foot, visited fishermen and farmers, held synods with great difficulty, endeavored to establish order, and cultivated figs in his spare time. Finally, in 1246, Richard was acknowledged as Bishop by King Henry after the Pope had threatened the king with excommunication.

In 1252 Richard took a commission from the Pope Innocent the IV to preach the latest crusade, and began the arduous journey along the coast of England. He was overcome by a fever in Dover. He died at midnight on April 3, 1253, surrounding by his closest friends, and was buried in Chichester Cathedral. He was canonized on January 25, 1262 by Pope Urban IV.

Richard was a person of miraculous stories. Miracles were reported of him even in his lifetime, and miraculous interpretations were given to events. The most well-known legend is that once, when he was celebrating Mass, he dropped the chalice, but no wine was spilt. This is why he is often shown with a chalice at his hand or by his feet in many art forms.

He was a person of temperance. He was an ascetic who wore a hair-shirt and refused to eat off silver. He kept his diet simple and rigorously excluded animal flesh; having been a vegetarian since his days at Oxford.

He was a reforming bishop and administrator with courage. A priest of noble blood polluted his office by sin; Richard deprived him of his benefice, and refused the king's petition in his favor. On the other hand, when a knight violently imprisoned a priest, Richard compelled the knight to walk around the priest's church with the same log of wood on his neck to which he had chained him. 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.

He was a person living out the gospel. He devoted his life to God and to God’s people. He loved people, especially the poor and the oppressed, selflessly, and was greatly beloved by them. He sold his gold and silver and gave the proceeds to the poor. He willed his episcopal estate to the poor, to hospitals, to widows, and orphans. As the founding pastor of St. Richard’s Catholic Church wrote: “Saint Richard became all things to all men.  He was the poorest of the poor, yet rich in virtue, he was the humblest servant of those who needed his help, yet the diligent and prudent ruler of his diocese. Nobles sought his advice and counsel, but before these, he would listen to the trials of the poor wife of the village in his diocese. Because he was faithful in these little things, God raised him up to the very throne of heaven itself. Such is the virtue of Saint Richard.  ”

Richard is often remembered by his prayer: (in a modern English)

Thanks be to my Lord Jesus Christ, for all the benefits you have given me,

for all the pains and insults you have borne for me. O most merciful redeemer, friend and brother, may I know you more clearly, love you more dearly, and follow you more nearly. Amen.