14 June 2017

St. Richard of Chichester


Richard of Wyche was born in 1197 at Droitwyche, the son of a prosperous yeoman farmer. He and his brother were orphaned at an early age, and an incompetent guardian wasted the inheritance. Richard worked long and hard to restore the family property, and when he had succeeded, he turned it over to his brother and went off to Oxford to become a scholar. He was too poor to afford a gown or a fire in winter, but he did very well at his studies, with Robert Grosseteste among his teachers, and he established what would be a lifelong friendship with his tutor, Edmund Rich (Edmund of Abingdon). He studied canon law at Oxford (and probably also at Paris and Bologna) and, having acquired a doctorate, he became Chancellor of Oxford in 1235.

Meanwhile, his tutor had become Archbishop of Canterbury, and soon asked Richard to become his Chancellor. When the Archbishop rebuked King Henry III for keeping various bishoprics vacant as long as possible (because as long as they were vacant their revenues went to the Crown), Henry forced him into exile, and Richard accompanied him to France and nursed him in his final illness. After the Archbishop's death in 1240, Richard studied at the Dominican house in Orleans, and was ordained priest in 1243.

In 1244 he was elected Bishop of Chichester, but Henry would not recognize the election, locked him out of the bishop's residence, and pocketed the revenues. Richard accepted shelter with a village priest, and spent the next two years walking barefoot through his diocese, preaching to fishermen and farmers, and correcting abuses. He held synods to legislate, and insisted that the sacraments must be administered without payment, and the Liturgy celebrated with reverence and order. The clergy were required to be celibate, to wear clerical dress, and to live in the parishes they were assigned to and carry out their duties in person. The laity were required to attend services on all Sundays and holy days, and to know by heart the Lord's Prayer, the Hail Mary, and the Apostles' Creed. After two years, Henry was pressured into recognizing Richard as Bishop, but Richard continued to live as he had before.

One of his concerns was that the Muslims then in control of Jerusalem would not admit Christian pilgrims. In 1253 he traveled about appealing for a new Crusade, aimed solely at pressuring the Muslims into permitting pilgrimages. He caught a fever and died in 1253. A well-known prayer written by him reads in part as follows:
Thanks be to thee, my Lord Jesus Christ, for all the benefits thou hast given me, for all the pains and insults 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.

Most merciful Redeemer, who gavest to thy Bishop Richard a love of learning, a zeal for souls, and a devotion to the poor: grant that, encouraged by his example, and aided by his prayers, we may know thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, and follow thee more nearly, day by day; who livest and reignest with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.