The Shrine of St Chad at Lichfield
Sacred Staffordshire is an exploration of places of that have been sacred to people in the county for whatever reason - historical, legendary, or because of a special "Spirit of Place."
Notes by Michael Fisher:
Set into the floor east of the high altar in Lichfield cathedral, an inscribed stone marks the site of a shrine, where, from the early fourteenth century to the midsixteenth century the remains of St. Chad were venerated. At an earlier date theshrine stood further to the west, prior to the enlargements and additions made to accomodate the ever-increasing number of pilgrims and to provide a more dignified setting for the shrine. In 2003 an exciting discovery was made during the excavation of foundations for a new sanctuary in theeastern bay of the nave. Three fragments from what was evidently an Anglo-Saxon shrine chest were discovered, carved with the figure of an angel. Known now as "The Lichfield Angel", the figure almost certainly formed a part of the pre-Conquest shrine of St. Chad, and it is considered to be one of the most remarkable pieces of Anglo-Saxon sculpture to have survived.
But who was St. Chad? His near-contemporary, the Venerable Bede, in his History of the English Church and People tells the story of four brothers all of whom became priests, and of whom two - Chad and Cedd - became bishops. Chad and Cedd were educated at the Northumbrian monastery of Lindisfarne, and this belonged to the "Celtic" tradition of Christianity. Chad became abbot of the Yorkshire monastery of Lastingham before being called to be bishop first of York and then of the Mercians. He arrived in the middle kingdom of Mercia in 669AD establishing his episcopal seat at Lichfield. Though he was bishop for only three years before dying of the plague in 672, he made such an impact on the area he served that thirty-three churches were eventually dedicated to him. Known affectionately as The Apostle of the Midlands, Chad's tireless travelling across his vast diocese, and his ability to reconcile Celtic Christianity with the Roman jurisdiction re-established by St. Augustine in 597, endeared him to people of differing traditions.
In December 700 a new cathedral was dedicated on or near the site of Cahd's original church, and it is here that his remians were enshrined. The first known statutes of the cathedral, dating from about 1190, contain details of what was by this time the well-established cult of St Chad. His feast-day (2nd March) had its own liturgy and was one of the four occasions in the year when the cathedral was adorned with silks and other hangings. By the fifteenth century the remains of the saint had been divided, his head being kept in a portable gilded reliquary in a chapel off the south choir aisle still know as the Chapel of St. Chad's Head.
The first impact of the Reformation on Lichfield cathedral came with Henry VIII's plunder of pilgrimage shrines in 1538. The jewelled embellishments of St. Chad's shrine were seized by the Crown, and the shrine itself was destroyed. Some at least of the relics of the saint were removed by Can Arthur Dudley, and for the next three hundred years they were concealed in various Catholic houses in Staffordshire, including Swynnerton, the home of the Fitzherberts, and Aston Hall near Stone where they came to light again in 1840, contained in a velvet-covered box of sixteenth centiry date. A year later the six bones were enshrined above the altar in the new Catholic Cathedral of St. Chad at Birmingham, their final resting-place.
In 1995 a forensic investigation revealed that five of the bones are of seventh century date, but they do not all belong to the same body. The discovery of the "Lichfield Angel" in 2003 has revealed the location of the pre-Conquest shrine of St . Chad, while the angel itself has been put on display in the cathedral following sensitive conservation work. Meanwhile St Chad is honoured in both cathedrals as he patron of the Diocese of Lichfield and Archdiocese of Birmingham
Lichfield Cathedral: http://lichfield-cathedral.org/
St Chad's Cathedral,Birmingham (RC): http://stchadscathedral.org.uk/