Stories of Saints and Martyrs - Jetta S. Wolff

St. Chad of Lichfield

March 2; A.D. 672

The story of St. Chad of Lichfield is very full of interest to us, for he was the first really English Bishop in our land. The Faith of CHRIST had first been preached to us by men from Rome and from France, and most of our early Bishops, as well as a great number of the Priests of the early days of Christianity in England, were strangers. Not so St. Chad; he was of an old stock of ancient Britons, and English was his native tongue.

There were in his family four brothers, all high-minded, earnest lads. As they grew up, each one decided to give himself to the Priesthood, and they took great pains to fit themselves for the sacred office.

It was Cedde, the eldest, who founded the monastery of Lestingharn in Yorkshire. There he went to live and work in self-denial and privation. He led all the people of the country around to a truer faith in CHRIST, and taught them to live better, holier lives. He was greatly beloved. But in the midst of his work he was taken ill. A dreadful pest had come among the people; hundreds died, and with them the beloved Abbot Cedde. He was laid to rest near the monastery he had founded and ruled so well.

At a little distance from Lestingham was another monastery. When the monks there heard of the death of the beloved Cedde, they were overcome with grief. Then thirty of them left their own house, and went to Lestingham, thinking they would have more courage to work bravely as he had done if they were near the abbot's resting-place. Alas! they all took the pest too and died. Now it was that St. Chad came to take his brother's place and rule the monastery.

In a little while he was made Bishop of York, and then, after a time, Bishop of Mercia. This was one of the Saxon divisions of the country, and was very large. As a bishopric it took in Lancashire, Lincolnshire, Shropshire, Staffordshire, and part of Cheshire, so that St. Chad was thus Bishop of almost all the north of England.

Of this large diocese he made Lichfield his chief city. Here he worked and studied and prayed, directing the affairs of the many churches and monasteries under his charge. He worked for those under his special care, he prayed for all men. In bad weather whenever a storm arose, the good Bishop's thoughts went at once to the poor sailors who earned their bread upon the sea; to the fishermen whose wives and children were looking for the father's return, and to the many poor peasants of the country round, whose slight huts were rudely shaken by the blasts of wind, and often deluged by the heavy rains. All this—all the misery and suffering of the poor in times of rough weather—came before him in an instant, and he would at once lay aside his books or his writing and kneel in prayer.

St. Chad had a friend and disciple named Owini, who left some account of the Bishop's life, and has told us the beautiful story of his death. Owini had been a great man at the Court of Queen Etheldreda, but he grew tired of court life, and he loved and honoured St. Chad. So he gave up his position in the queen's counsels, and came to the monastery at Lestingham, meaning to devote himself to hard work and to the service of GOD . He was very strong, and used to do the outdoor work about the monastery, while the monks were busy at their reading and writing. One day Owini was hewing down trees, and putting logs of wood ready for use, while the Bishop was writing alone in his oratory close by. Suddenly he thought he heard the sound of music. He stayed his axe and looked around, but he could see no one. The air was calm and still, the monks were all hard at work in their cells. His Bishop, he knew, was quite alone in his room. Still he felt sure he heard strains as of persons chanting in a strange, sweet way; the sounds seemed to be in the air as if coming from heaven. Then in a few moments they seemed to die away and cease.

Owini, full of wonder, but bent still upon the duty before him—his work of chopping the wood—was about to take up his axe again, when he noticed St. Chad standing at the window of his retreat and beckoning to him.

"Haste thee, Owini!" the Bishop cried, as he threw aside his hatchet and hurried up to the window. "Go, fetch the brethren from the monastery, and come with them to the church. I must pray with you, and speak with you all now while time is yet given me. In seven days I shall go hence."

When the monks were all come together in the church, the Bishop stood before them and told how, while he was writing, he had heard strains of wonderful music coming towards him from the south-east. He had felt, he said, as if in the presence of a band of angels, who had come, he believed, to bid him make ready, for in seven days his spirit would be called to his rest in GOD .

And so it was. A week later St. Chad quietly passed away from earth.

More than twelve hundred years have gone by since that day. But the grand old Cathedral stands to bear into future ages the name of the first Bishop of Lichfield, and to carry on to all time the earnest and blessed work begun on that spot by St. Chad.