Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Friday, 2 March 2012

Relics of St Chad

Today is the feast of St Chad, the apostle of Mercia, founder of the see of Lichfield and patron of the Archdiocese of Birmingham. The cathedral, designed and decorated by A.W.Pugin, is dedicated to him and his relics are enshrined above the High Altar.

There is a good account of his life and times here. The Oxford DNB biography by D.H.Farmer can be read here, and it includes some details as to the history of his relics.

Image 21

Statue of St Chad in his cathedral in Birmingham
He is holding a model of Lichfield cathedral

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The reliquary holding the relics of St Chad above the High Altar of the cathedral

I have adapted and developed the section about his relics from the article above as follows:

According to St. Bede, Chad was venerated as a saint immediately after his death, and his relics translated to a shrine. He remained the centre of an important cult, focussed on healing, throughout the Middle Ages. Indeed it was the presence of the relics that probably led in the twelfth century to the re-establishment of a co-cathedral at Lichfield following its removal to Coventry in the late eleventh century. Bythe later middle ages the cult had twin foci: his tomb, in the apse, directly behind the high altar of Lichfield cathedral, and, more particularly, his skull, kept in a special Head Chapel, above the south aisle, with a balcony from which the reliquary could be displayed.

The transmission of the relics after the Reformation was tortuous, and a testimony to the faith of recusant families in the centuries that followed. At the dismantling of the Shrine on the instructions of King Henry VIII in about 1538, Prebendary Arthur Dudley (d.1577) of Lichfield Cathedral removed and retained some relics. These eventually passed to his nieces, Bridget and Katherine Dudley, of Russells Hall, near the town of Dudley.

In 1651, they reappeared when a farmer, Henry Hodgetts of Sedgley, was on his death-bed and kept praying to St Chad. When the priest hearing his last confession, Fr Peter Turner SJ, asked him why he called upon Chad. Henry replied, "because his bones are in the head of my bed". He instructed his wife to give the relics to the priest, whence they found their way to the Seminary at St Omer, in France. After the penal times, in the early 19th century, they found their way into the hands of Sir Thomas Fitzherbert-Brockholes of Aston Hall, near Stone in Staffordshire. When his chapel was cleared after his death, his chaplain, Fr Benjamin Hulme, discovered the box containg the relics, which were examined and presented in 1837 to Bishop Thomas Walsh, the Vicar Apostolic of the Midland District, and were enshrined in the new St Chad's Birmingham, opened in 1841, in a new casket designed by Pugin. In 1850 the church became the cathedral of the new diocese.

The relics, which comprise some long bones, were examined by the Oxford Archeological Laboratory by carbon dating techniques in 1985, and all but one of the bones (which was a third femur, and therefore could not have come from Bishop Chad) were dated to the seventh century, and were authenticated as true relics by the Vatican.

In 1919, an Annual Mass and Solemn Outdoor Procession of the Relics was inaugurated at the cathedral in Birmingham. This observance which was at on epoint discontinued because of the redevelopment of the road system round the cathedral has been revived in recent years, on the Saturday nearest to his feast Day, 2 March. There are more pictures of last year's St Chad's Day on the website of St Chad's Cathedral Birmingham.

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