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Apr 3 Richard of Chichester

Today we go back to 1253 where we remember the death of Richard of Chichester. An interesting figure who stood out for his loyalty and austerity. Made famous recently for his prayer in the musical 'Godspell'

Born in, Worcestershire, in central England, in the village of Wyche, when he was alive he was known as Richard de Wyche. He was sadly orphaned while a young boy, and his elder brother became heir to the family estates, but as he was not old enough to inherit, the family’s lands were subject to a feudal wardship. When his brother took possession of the families lands he was required to pay a medieval form of death duty that left the family so impoverished that Richard had to work for him on the farmland. Although his brother tried to match him up with a noble lady, and start rebuilding the families fortunes, Richard preferred to dedicate himself to a life of study and the church. He received an excellent education, which took him to Oxford, Paris, and Italy. He was very strict with himself, led an austere life, an ascetic he wore a hair shirt and refused to eat off silver. Having been a vegetarian since his days as a student at the University of Oxford, he kept his diet simple, cultivating figs in his spare time. This strict lifestyle would have brought him to peoples attention, but also probably created jealousy amongst other more lax clerics.

Whilst he was a student in Oxford, he studied with and became a close friend of Edmund Rich, who would rise quickly within the ranks of the Church. A talented student, he left England to continue his studies in Paris and ended up earning a doctorate in law from the University of Bologna. On his return he was appointed Chancellor of Oxford University and then later chancellor to Edmund Rich, who by now was Archbishop of Canterbury. He was loyal to his friend, and accompanied Edmund into retirement at the Cistercian abbey of Pontigny, France. He departed the community upon Edmund's death, taught at the Dominican house in Orkans, and was ordained there at the age of fourty five.

Returning a second time to England, he was named chancellor to Edmund's successor, in Canterbury, Boniface. When King Henry Ill appointed Ralph Neville to the see of Chichester in 1244, Boniface declared the nomination invalid and named Richard to the post, an act which caused an uproar in the kingdom. This wasn’t the first time the church and State disputed who had the right to name a Bishop. Finally, Pope Innocent IV found in Richard's favour, but still Richard was prevented from entering his office and only after the King was threatened with excommunication was he able to take up his duties. A reformer, he insisted upon strict adherence to discipline among the clergy, aided the poor, and fearlessly denounced the corruption and vices of the contemporary Church and the royal court. He died surrounded by his closest friends, at midnight on April 3, 1253 in Dover at about 56 years of age and was buried in Chichester Cathedral.

He was declared a saint nine years later, quickly for the time and a sign of his popular acclaim. His tomb soon became a popular shrine noted for its miracles until the Reformation in England when it was looted under the direction of Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell. The modern St Richard's Shrine is located in the retro-quire of Chichester cathedral and was re-established in 1930 by Dean Duncan Jones. More recently in 1987 during the restoration of the Abbey of La Lucerne, in Normandy, the lower part of a man's arm was discovered in a reliquary, thought to be Richard's and buried in 1991 below the St Richard altar. A further relic, together with an authentication certificate, was offered from Rome at the same time and is now housed at the bishop's chapel in Chichester.

The modern shrine of Richard contains a tapestry designed by Ursula Benker-Schirmer (partly woven in her studio in Bavaria and partly at the West Dean College) and an icon that shows St Richard in episcopal vestments, his hand raised in blessing towards the viewer. Often In art and in stained glass Richard is portrayed holding a Chalice. In popular legend, once when Richard was celebrating Mass, he accidentally knocked his chalice, filled with the precious blood of Christ, to the floor, but not a drop was spilled from the chalice. He became a prominent figure again in peoples imagination because of the 70’s musical Godspell, when a prayer associated to him was adapted for the song "Day by Day" with music by Stephen Schwartz. Day by day, Dear Lord, of thee three things I pray: To see thee more clearly,Love thee more dearly, Follow thee more nearly, Day by Day. He is the patron saint of the county of Sussex in England and his translated saint's day, 16 June, has become Sussex Day.


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