Richard of Chichester

(c. 1197—1253)

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bishop. Born at Droitwich, the son of a yeoman farmer, Richard was a studious boy, but helped to restore the family fortune by working hard on the farm for several years. After refusing an advantageous offer of marriage, he studied at Oxford, Paris, and Bologna, where he gave seven years to canon law.

In 1235 he returned to Oxford and soon became Chancellor. His former tutor, Edmund of Abingdon, had become archbishop of Canterbury and appointed Richard as his chancellor. He shared Edmund's ideals of clerical reform and resistance, where appropriate, to the secular power; he also shared his exile at Pontigny, and was with him when he died (1240). Richard now decided to become a priest and studied theology for two years with the Dominicans at Orléans.

After his ordination (1242), he was parish priest at Charing and at Deal, but was reappointed chancellor by archbishop Boniface of Savoy (1243–70). In 1244 Richard was elected bishop but King Henry III and part of the Chapter refused to accept him, while Boniface refused to confirm the rival election of Richard Passelew. Both sides appealed to the pope; the king confiscated the properties and revenues of the see, but Innocent IV confirmed the election of Richard de Wych and consecrated him bishop at Lyons (1245). Richard returned to Chichester, but the properties were not restored for two years, and then much dilapidated and only at the threat of excommunication. Meanwhile Richard lived at Tarring in the parish priest's house, visited his diocese on foot, and cultivated figs in his spare time.

Contemporaries reckoned Richard to be 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 administered without payment, Mass celebrated in dignified conditions; the clergy must observe celibacy, practise residence, and wear clerical dress. The laity were obliged to attend Mass on Sundays and holy days and to know by heart the Hail Mary as well as the Lord's Prayer and the Creed.

He was also prominent in preaching the Crusade near the end of his life. He saw this as a call to a new life, which would also reopen the Holy Land to pilgrims, not as a political expedition. He recruited numbers of Crusaders in Sussex and Kent, especially among unemployed sailors. But he fell mortally ill at Dover and died on 3 April. He was canonized in 1262 and his body was translated to a shrine behind the high altar of Chichester cathedral in 1276. This became a pilgrimage centre for the rest of the Middle Ages, until the shrine was despoiled in 1538 and the body buried secretly.

In art he is represented with a chalice at his feet, in memory of his having once at Mass dropped the chalice, which remained unspilt; murals also survive in Norwich cathedral and at Black Bourton (Oxon.). Unexpectedly, he is patron of the coachmen's guild at Milan, presumably because he drove carts on his family farm. He can also be seen as the type of the academic who is skilled in agriculture as well. One ancient English church is dedicated to him. He is also author of a famous prayer, recently set to popular music: ‘Thanks be to thee, my Lord Jesus Christ for all the benefits thou hast given me, for all the pains and insults which thou hast borne for me. O most merciful redeemer, friend and brother, may I know thee more clearly, love thee more dearly and follow thee more nearly, day by day.’ Feast: 3 April; translation 16 June.


Subjects: Christianity.

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