Saints of the Day – Saint Chad of Lichfield

detail of a stained glass window of Saint Chad of Mercia, 1920 and artist unknown; Chapel of the Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, New York; photographed on 9 July 2007 by Randy OHC; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsArticle

(also known as Ceadda)

Born in Northumbria, England; died at Lichfield in 673.

The Venerable Bede writes that:

King Oswy sent to Kent a holy man of modest character, well versed in the Scriptures, and practicing with diligence what he had learned from them, to be ordained bishop of the church of York. . . . But when they reached Kent, they found that Archbishop Deusdedit had departed this life and that as yet no other had been appointed in his place.

Thereupon they turned aside to the province of the West Saxons, where Wine was bishop, and by him the above mentioned Chad was consecrated bishop, two bishops of the British nation, who kept Easter in contravention of the canonical custom from the 14th to the 20th of the moon, being associated with him, for at that time there was no other bishop in all Britain canonically ordained besides Wine. [Saint Theodore of Canterbury had not yet arrived.]

As soon as Chad had been consecrated bishop, he began most strenuously to devote himself to ecclesiastical truth and purity of doctrine and to give attention to the practice of humility, self- denial and study: to travel about, not on horseback, but on foot, after the manner of the apostles, preaching the Gospel in the towns and the open country, in cottages, villages and castles, for he was one of Aidan’s disciples and tried to instruct his hearers by acting and behaving after the example of his master and of his brother Cedd.

During the tenure of Saint Aidan as abbot, when the abbey of Lindisfarne in northern Britain was a hive of Christian activity and the center of a brave and eager company of evangelists, among them was Saint Chad, an Angle by birth, one of four brothers all of whom became priests, including Saint Cedd and Saint Cynibild.

As a young monk Chad had spent some years as a missionary monk in Ireland with Saint Egbert at Rathmelsigi, but was recalled to England to replace his brother Cedd as abbot of Lastingham Monastery, when Cedd was appointed bishop of London. Lastingham was a small community under the Rule of Saint Columba in a remote, beautiful village on the very edge of the north York Moors near Whitby.

As described by Bede, within a year of his abbatial appointment Chad was named bishop of York by King Oswy. Meanwhile, King Oswy’s son King Alcfrid had appointed Wilfrid, bishop of the same see. But Wilfrid, considering the northern bishops who had refused to accept the decrees of Whitby as schismatic, went to France to be ordained (consecrated?). Delayed until 666 in his return, Wilfrid found that Saint Chad had been appointed. Rather than contest the election of Chad, Wilfrid returned to his monastery at Ripon.

When Saint Theodore became archbishop of Canterbury in 669, he removed Chad from the see of York on the grounds that he was improperly consecrated by Wine, and restored Saint Wilfrid. Chad’s humility in accepting this change was evidenced in his reply to Theodore: “If you consider that I have not been properly consecrated, I willingly resign this charge of which I never thought myself worthy. I undertook it, though unworthy, under obedience.”

With that, the astonished Theodore supplied what he thought was wanting in Chad’s consecration, and soon after made him bishop of the Mercians with his see at Lichfield. This was Chad’s greatest achievement: The creation of the see of Lichfield, which covered 17 counties and stretched from the Severn to the North Sea. At Lichfield, or the Field of the Dead, where once a thousand Christians had been martyred, Chad founded his cathedral. Here, too, he built himself a simple oratory not far from the church, where he lived and prayed when not travelling on foot throughout his wide diocese, and here also he gathered around him a missionary band of eight of his brethren from Lastingham.

A typical story is of how on one occasion when two of the king’s sons were out hunting, they were led by their quarry to the oratory of Saint Chad, where they found him praying, and were so impressed by the sight of the frail old man upon his knees, his face glowing with rapture, that they knelt and asked his blessing, and were later baptized and confirmed. All who encountered him were similarly impressed, and many made pilgrimage to Lichfield and to his holy well outside the city, which still remains.

He had great qualities of mind and spirit, but greatest of all was his sense of the presence of God and the influence it had upon others, for it is said that all who met him were aware of God’s glory. It was this experience, no doubt, which underlies the story that Wulfhere was so angry when his sons were converted that he slew them and, breathing fury, sought out Saint Chad, but as he approached the bishop’s cell a great light shone through its single window, and the king was almost blinded by its brightness.

In his early days in Northumbria, Saint Chad had trudged on foot on his long missionary journeys until Archbishop Theodore with his own hands lifted him on horseback, insisting that he conserve his strength. This was typical of Saint Chad, and he brought to his work at Lichfield the same grace and simplicity.

In Lichfield Chad founded monasteries including possibly Barrow (Barton) upon Humber, improved the discipline of the cloisters, preached everywhere, and reformed the churches of the diocese.

Many legends gathered round his name, and the familiar one which relates to his death reflects at least the inner beauty of his life. After two and one half years of steady, unremitting labor, when Chad came to die, his oratory was filled with the sound of music. First a laborer heard it, outside in the fields, and drew near in wonder, then ran and told others. Saint Chad’s followers gathered outside, and when they asked what it was, he told them that it meant that his hour had come and it was the angels calling him home. Then he gave each of them a blessing, begged them to keep together, to live in peace, and faithfully fulfill their calling. Saint Chad’s body simply wore out.

Some of his relics are preserved in the cathedral of Birmingham, which is named for him (Attwater, Benedictines, Delaney, Encyclopedia, Gill).

In art, Saint Chad is a bishop holding Lichfield Cathedral and a branch (usually a vine). He may also be found (1) holding the cathedral in the midst of a battlefield with the dead surrounding him, (2) with a hart leading hunters to him by a pool, or (3) at the time of the conversion of the hunters (SS. Wulfhald and Ruffinus) (Roeder).

MLA Citation

  • Katherine I Rabenstein. Saints of the Day, 1998. CatholicSaints.Info. 23 May 2020. Web. 2 June 2020. <>