Richard of Chichester

Bishop

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Richard of Chichester
Bishop

Picture courtesy of Cathedral of St John the Evangelist, Kuala Lumpur

Richard of Chichester was the son of a yeoman farmer. He worked on the family farm for several years, refused to marry, and went as a student first to Oxford, then Paris and Bologna. He became chancellor of the University of Oxford about 1235, and, soon after, chancellor of Canterbury under Archbishop Edmund Rich.

When Henry III forced the archbishop into exile, Richard accompanied him to France. After the archbishop’s death, Richard studied theology and was ordained in 1243. In 1244 he was elected bishop of Chichester. Unfortunately, however, King Henry III refused to accept him, preferring a rival candidate, and Henry confiscated all the properties and revenues of the diocese. He only gave them up when threatened with excommunication by the pope.

At this time England was politically very unstable, and this instability also affected the church. Many clergy, more concerned with wealth than service, were taking revenue from several livings, often without even bothering to visit them; they were demanding payment for sacraments and not observing celibacy. Bishops often allowed these conditions to continue, either from dishonesty or inertia or perhaps from fear of the consequences of interference.

This did not prevent Richard from carrying out his responsibilities. While the bishop’s house was closed to him, he lived in the house of a parish priest. Without the use of the diocesan horses, he patiently continued to move around his district on foot, visiting fishermen and farmers. Richard was known to be generous and approachable - not common among higher clergy of his day - and merciful but not weak. His knowledge of canon law and awareness of the need for reform gave him extra strength. He dealt firmly with the abuses that had crept into his diocese. At a time when abuses were so common, Richard’s standards were unshaken, reflecting his own devout and ordered life.

Richard was not only respected, he was loved and even revered. He was canonised in 1262. His shrine at Chichester Cathedral was a centre of pilgrimage for many people. King Henry VIII of England, through his Vicar-General, Thomas Cromwell ordered the destruction of Richard's shrine in Chichester cathedral in 1538.

The first collect for Richard’s day is modelled on the beautiful prayer that he himself composed.

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.

BORN: 1197, Worcestershire, England

DIED: 3 April 1253, Dover, England