Saint Richard of Chichester, Bishop

April 3

Today is the feast day of Saint Richard of Chichester.  Ora pro nobis.

Saint Richard (de Wyche) was born about 1197 at Droitwich, Worcestershire; and died 3 April, 1253, at Dover. He was the second son of Richard and Alice de Wyche. His father died while he was still young and the family property fell into a state of great delapidation. His elder brother offered to resign the inheritance to him, but Richard refused the offer, although he undertook the management of the estate and soon restored it to a good condition. He went to Oxford, where he and two companions lived in such poverty that they had only one tunic and hooded gown between them, in which they attended lectures by turns. He then went to Paris and on his return proceeded Master of Arts. At Bologna he studied canon law, in which he acquired a great reputation and was elected Chancellor of the University of Oxford. (2)

In 1235 Saint Richard was appointed, for his learning and piety, chancellor of that University and afterwards chancellor of his diocese by Saint Edmund, Archbishop of Canterbury. The new Chancellor stood by the Saint in his long contest with the king, and then accompanied him into exile in France, in the Abbey of Pontigny. After Saint Edmund’s death there, he studied theology in Orleans before returning to England to toil as a simple parish priest. He was, however, soon elected by the Canons of Chichester, when their see became vacant, for their Bishop. This election greatly displeased the king, who had nominated another candidate whom the Canons judged unworthy.

The king in revenge refused to recognize the election, and seized the revenues of the see. Thus Saint Richard found himself fighting the same battle in which Saint Edmund had died. He went to Lyons, where he was consecrated bishop by Innocent IV in 1245, and returning to England he exercised fully his episcopal rights despite his poverty and the king’s hostility, and thoroughly reformed his see. Young and old loved Saint Richard, and after two years his revenues were restored. To feed the poor and heal the sick, he gave all he had and worked miracles; and when the rights or the sanctity of the Church were concerned, he was inexorable. (1)

In 1250 Richard was named as one of the collectors of the subsidy for the crusades (Bliss, “Calendar of Papal Letters”, I, 263) and two years later the king appointed him to preach the crusade in London. He made strenuous efforts to rouse enthusiasm for the cause in the Dioceses of Chichester and Canterbury, and while journeying to Dover, where he was to consecrate a new church dedicated to St. Edmund, he was taken ill. Upon reaching Dover, he went to a hospital called “Maison Dieu”, performed the consecration ceremony on 2 April, but died the next morning. His body was taken back to Chichester and buried in the cathedral.

He was solemnly canonized by Urban IV in the Franciscan church at Viterbo, 1262, and on 20 Feb. a papal licence for the translation of his relics to a new shrine was given; but the unsettled state of the country prevented this until 16 June, 1276, when the translation was performed by Archbishop Kilwardby in the presence of Edward I. This shrine, which stood in the feretory behind the high altar, was rifled and destroyed at the Reformation. The much-restored altar tomb in the south transept now commonly assigned to St. Richard has no evidence to support its claim, and no relics are known to exist. The feast is celebrated on 3 April. The most accurate version of St. Richard’s will, which has been frequently printed, is that given by Blaauw in “Sussex Archaeological Collections”, I, 164-92, with a translation and valuable notes. His life was written by his confessor Ralph Bocking shortly after his canonization and another short life, compiled in the fifteenth century, was printed by Capgrave. Both these are included in the notice of St. Richard in the Bollandist “Acta Sanctorum”. (1)

Image: Statue of Saint Richard at Chichester Cathedral  (8)

Research by REGINA Staff



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