Monday 4 April 2011

St. Richard de Wyche, Bishop of Chichester

Sorry, this is one day late, but I was out of town and didn't have internet.

            April 3 is the Feast Day of St Richard, Bishop of Chichester. Richard died on this day in 1253 in Dover, England. Like most saints, his feast day is the day of his death here on earth, which marks his birth into eternal life. Kind of creepy, but that’s how it’s done.
            While St Richard isn’t a totally obscure saint, he’s certainly not an A-lister. He’s no St Patrick or St Anthony, but he was a real person, who actually lived, putting him a step ahead of St Christopher. Sorry, travelers, I know you like those medals, but St Christopher is almost certainly apocryphal. Anyway, when I was younger I was psyched to learn there was a St Richard. This had a practical application, even. I had heard (although I have not independently verified its truth) that Catholics had to name their kids after a saint, either first or middle name. My first thought was, “Frick! Is there a saint Richard or am I going to have to give my kid some Gospel-ly name such as Luke [too Star Wars]?” I consoled myself by thinking I could just give my kid a papally-approved middle name, until I sought out St Richard. And there he was! There was much rejoicing. Now, if I ever have a son, I can give him a ridiculous middle name such as “Castle” or “the Third.” Many of you are probably thinking, “Umm, if you name your kid Richard you’re already giving him a ridiculous name.” To which I reply, “Dad, why are you reading my blog?”
            On to St Richard. He was born Richard de (or “of” if you hate the French) Wyche. His parents were named Richard and Alice, and our saint was of aristocratic birth. He became chancellor of Oxford about 1235, and of his life before that we know pretty much nothing. Richard studied arts and canon law because you didn’t become chancellor of medieval Oxford without having studied them. Also, he was regent of both of those sometime before 1235, although scholars aren’t exactly sure of the dates.
            I read once in a book on saints (or a website, I forget which now) that when Richard was in university as a student at Oxford, he and his roommates were so poor they only had one gown between the three of them. So they rotated who went to classes because they didn’t have enough money for them all to have the garments required to leave the house. I love this story. It’s a great variation on the “well, we were so poor” story. I have never once heard one of my elders bitch “we were so poor we couldn’t even all go to school on the same days.” It’s too bad because the thought of a bunch of nearly naked, grubby children huddled at home while the chosen few get to put on clothes and go to school is absolutely priceless. I also like this story from the perspective of a university teacher. If one of my students told me they had missed class because they didn’t have any clothes to wear, I would be highly skeptical. Especially since I attend grad school in southern California, where “enough clothes on to venture outside the house” is highly subjective. I think I would just tell the student where the nearest Goodwill was and call it a day.
            Moving on, St Richard was chancellor at Oxford, then chancellor to Edmund of Abingdon, Archbishop of Canterbury (and a saint himself. Must have been something in the holy water.). Richard was close to Archbishop Edmund, accompanying the archbishop on his final trip to Rome, and being present for his death in 1240. Richard was one of the clerics who accompanied the archbishop’s body to Pontigny Abbey for burial. Deeply affected by Edmund’s death, Richard spent some time with the Dominicans in France, being ordained a priest and engaging in intensive personal mortifications.
            In 1244 Richard was appointed Bishop of Chichester, against the will of the English king Henry III. A tiff ensued, but the pope was on Richard’s side and consecrated him bishop in March 1245, a sort of “in your face” to Henry. In 1246 Henry backed down and Richard was allowed to do his job.
            Richard did his job with some zest. He raised money to repair the cathedral church at Chichester, which was in a state. He endeavored to make sure parish churches were properly served by priests who knew what they were doing, and held frequent diocesan synods to make sure priests were following the rules. Without going into too much detail about the medieval church, Richard was a reforming bishop. He traveled about his diocese, trying to help people, and he was fairly learned – he bequeathed a decent-sized library to the mendicants. Richard was commissioned to preach the crusade, and he died in Dover while on his preaching tour. His body was returned to Chichester, and miracles were reported at his tomb shortly thereafter. He was canonized in 1262, and remained a popular saint in southern England until the Reformation.

I used the always scholarly Oxford DNB for my information, but if you want to some saintly stories, no doubt replete with amazing miracles, check out this website.  

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