Chad of Lichfield

Chad of Lichfield, 634-672  (Feast Day – March 2)

Written by Sr. Pamela Pranke, OPA

In the mid600s, a father transported his four sons across Northumbria in Britain to the Holy Island where the newly build, solid stone Lindisfarne Abbey guarded the North Sea. There, the youngest son, Chad, and his older brother, Cedd, said farewell to their father and were turned over to the care of Abbot Adain to learn and live the life of a Celtic monk. Thus began their legendary saintly lives.

At Lindesfarne, the boys lived in community, praying, studying, and working together. Those early years shaped Chad to the rhythms of the sea and prayer, obedience, humility, Celtic spirituality, memorizing psalms and gospel, singing, and playing clapping word games. A call and response game went something like this, one boy called out, “God is_,” followed by a couple of claps. The other boys would shout a response such as, “Omnipotent.” Chad was especially known for his loud thunderous claps. 

The North Sea churned about the Holy Island as a constant reminder of the power of nature, especially during fierce storms. When the sea roared, Chad humbled himself before God by lying prostrate praying for protection and deliverance.  

When the boys were old enough to travel alone, Chad and some of the other young monks were send to a monastery in Ireland, Rath Melsigi. Following the instructions of Abbott Aidan and the way of Celtic monks they were told to keep their feet on the ground walking rather than riding a horse. Chad always refused a horse until a time when as a Bishop his superior, Archbishop Theodore, picked him up and put him on a horse, forcing him to ride.

Chad and his companions traveled from monastery to monastery on foot in the wet and cold of Ireland, sharing with people living in extreme poverty, hunger, and deprivation, until they reached Rath Melsigi. Chad would go out of his way to meet every poorest distant home or farm to preach the gospel and teach them to sing and chant simple Celtic tunes like, “Come, Lord. Come down. Come among us.” As the chant was repeated, he would tell them gospel stories over the rhythm of the chant. 

When the young monks first saw Rath Melsigi they were like hobbits seeing the elven city of Rivendell for the first time. They were awe struck, especially by the large number of books housed there. At Rath Melsigi, the day was divided into three parts, first, study of early Church writers, second, work for their upkeep, third, work for the good of others, no matter what that might mean. No task was considered beneath their dignity, from mending a fence, or teaching the psalms. The monks completely lived a life of service. This rhythm formed their days until the time when they would be sent back out into the world.

Every time and place have its upheavals and conflicts. For Chad these took the form of political conflict within Christianity between the Roman and Celtic Christians, and the 664 A.D. plague in Ireland and Britain. As we know well, pandemic impacts every part of one’s life.  This plague gave rise to deadly devastation that decimated the population to an extent beyond our understanding, while chaos ruled the day.

Needing assistance, Chad’s older brother, Cedd, who was Bishop of London and Abbott of Lastingham in Yorkshire, sent for his brothers, including, Chad. As Chad traveled to Lastingham his journey slowed to care for the sick and bury the dead. Sadly, death greeted Chad at Lastingham. All of his brothers, including Cedd, died of the plague, leaving Chad to serve as the Abbot of Lastingham.

Sadly, and ironically, while the population died, the rulers and church hierarchy were most concerned with the date of Easter and how to cut a tonsure. Despite the plague, The Synod of Whitby was called to settle the disputes. Unfortunately, most of those attending the Synod died from the plague.

A bishop or priest could not be found in all of Britain resulting in a power void that added to the chaos. For example, a priest named Wilfred was selected to be Bishop of York, but three bishops could not be found to consecrate him since all were dead. So, Wilfred went to Gual in search of bishops. There he lingered to be safe from the deadly plague.

With Wilfred in Gual, a bishop was still needed. Chad was selected for this position, but he experienced the same problem as Wilfred, no bishops were available to consecrate him as a bishop. Finally, the King had him unofficially consecrated. Still, it was not proper or official.

Just like a twisted, concocted tale, Wilfred returned wanting his bishop seat back. This is where Chad’s humility and holiness shined through brilliantly. Chad humbly gave the bishop seat back to Wilfred. Because he was so humble, and saintly, Chad was made Bishop of Lastingham where he served as Abbott. 

Learning of a massacre of martyrs on the fields of Lichfield under the Roman Emperor Diocletian in 303. Chad moved his See to Lichfield where a cathedral and monastary were built on the exact spot of the massacre.

Bishop Chad maintained his untarnished reputation as a humble, holy man. Sometimes he retreated to the bottom of a well to find a quiet space for prayer. It was said that light poured from the well when Chad prayed within. Ultimately, Chad, too, died of the plague. While the Lichfield monks prayed, they heard singing like that of angels. They scrambled outside to learn the source of the singing, instead they found their Bishop dead.

Chad was canonized shortly after his death. Many miracles and healings were attributed to him. The well where he prayed became a site of pilgrimage. His relics reside in the cathedral at Birmingham, England. 

We have much to learn from the life of St. Chad about humility, prayer, living in rhythm with the hours and nature, and care of the least during times of pandemic. Fortunately, one of Chad’s monks taught Bede, the famous British historian. From this monk, Venerable Bede learned intimate details about Chad’s life and Celtic Christianity. To learn more about this interesting saint, here are a few references.

Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of England, by The Venerable Bede,

Lichfield and the Lands of St Chad: Creating Community in Early Medieval Mercia (Studies in Regional and Local History Book 19) Kindle Edition, by Andrew Sargent

Life and Legends of Saint Chad, Bishop of Lichfield, (669-672) With Extracts From Un-edited mss., and Illustrations – September 3, 2015 by Richard Hyett Warner

On Eagles’ Wings – The Life and Spirit of St Chad, Mass Market Paperback – by Revd David Adam

Saint Chad (Caedda), Bishop of Mercia (Lichfield) † 672