Saint Richard of Chichester (*1197 +1253)


The third of April is the feast of Saint Richard. The day is celebrated in the Anglican Communion, but is not recognized in the universal Roman Calendar although the good bishop appears in the Roman Martyrology. The Translation of St. Richard is celebrated at Chichester Cathedral on 16 June as his principal commemoration because the feast of St. Richard invariably falls in Lent or Eastertide. 2013 was the 760th anniversary of his death.

Saint Richard is such an appealing patron, subsequent Richards or friends of a Richard might be interested in a little information about him.

Compiled by Richard Oliver OSB    

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Richard, Bishop of Chichester (1245-1253), who became Saint Richard, was a man of strong character, a scholar, but sensible and practical as well, energetic, kind, modest about his own powers, cheerful and courageous. He loved people and was greatly beloved by them.

Family First: Interruption of Studies

When Richard Backedine, his brother and sister were still children their parents died, leaving them in the care of guardians who mismanaged the property and squandered the income. Richard left his studies with the Benedictines at Worcester and came home to help restore the family fortunes.

Gradually things got better, the farm was saved and returned to prosperity. Because his brother recognized that Richard was the more capable of the two, the elder boy offered to make over to him the inheritance, but neither this, nor the chance of marrying a rich and charming lady, could keep Richard from his books. Turning his back on the land at last he set off for Oxford to resume his neglected studies.

Back to School

When Richard arrived, about 1214, the colleges were still some years away. Clerics studied theology at the first one, University College, in 1249. Richard probably enrolled with a Master, who rented his own Hall in Oxford for lectures and let out accommodation. Richard was poor and often cold and hungry. He shared one warm tunic and hooded gown with two friends, ran about to get warm in winter, and often ate only bread and thin vegetable soup. Despite the hardships of life, though, he said later that never in his life had he been so happy or felt such joy and peace of soul as during those years as a student at Oxford.

Study Abroad

[OP arms; link to UK OPs] He continued his studies at Paris and Bologna. When his mentor and friend, Edmund of Abingdon became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1233, Richard was made his Chancellor. After Edmund died in 1240, Richard determined to become a priest. He studied theology with the Dominicans at Orléans. After two years he was ordained by the Bishop and returned to England as a parish priest in Kent.

Elected Bishop [Chichester Cathedral]

In 1244 the Bishop of Chichester died; the canons elected Richard as their bishop. When King Henry III heard of Richard's election he was furious, and refused to give up the property and revenues of the See. Richard traveled to Lyons, where, the next year, with other Bishops, he was consecrated by Pope Innocent IV, who supported his claim. For several years, however, "like a stranger in a strange land," Richard became a wanderer in his own diocese. He was entirely dependent on the charity and hospitality of the people and clergy, who defied the King.

Justice at Last

At last, in 1247, the King relented and, amid the rejoicing of the people, [Chichester Cahtedral Organ] Richard came to his cathedral at Chichester. Richard's personal life was very simple, but he considered it his duty to keep the state proper to a bishop, and particularly to offer hospitality to rich and poor. Sometimes he was imposed upon, but the people loved him, not only for his almsgiving, but for his caring, preaching and the sweetness of his character. Richard was an able administrator as well as a holy man, and expected high standards from the clergy, although he defended their rights.

Death of Richard

[Gardiner, 'St. Richard,' drawing

Richard was bishop for only eight years. With friends, Simon of Tarring; William, his chaplain; and Friar Ralph Bocking, by the bedside, and surrounded by a crowd of priests, religious and laity, Richard de la Wyche, Bishop of Chichester, died at midnight on 3 April 1253. He was about fifty-six. "His venerable body was buried in a humble place in that same church, near the altar of the Blessed Edmund the Confessor which he himself had built on the northern side of the cathedral, where great and wonderful miracles were performed" (Ralph Bocking).

Richard's Stories

Miracles were reported of Saint Richard even in his lifetime, or miraculous interpretations were given to events. He is often shown with a chalice at his feet. Legend says that once when he was celebrating Mass he dropped the chalice, but no wine was spilt.

[arms]A student at Oxford had a pet blackbird, which was a fine singer and gave its master much joy. He refused to give it to a companion who coveted it. In rage he cut out the bird's tongue when the owner was absent. Returning, the young man found the poor bird drooping and songless. Sorrowing for his pet he prayed to Saint Richard, who had so enjoyed the singing of birds and had been Chancellor of the University. Immediately the bird perked up and began to sing. (Listen to .wav audio.)

Patron and Friend

Richard continued to be honored at his birthplace of Droitwich. On his Festival (the third of April) the local people decked the brine pit, known as Saint Richard's Well, with flowers and branches. This was continued even after it was forbidden by the Puritans. Further away, Richard was adopted as patron saint of the Guild of Coachmen of Milan "presumably because he drove carts on his family farm" (Farmer).

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Saint Richard's Prayer on his Deathbed[Shrine]

Thanks be to you, my lord, Jesus Christ,
For all the benefits that you have given me;
For all the pains and insults you have borne for me.

O, most merciful redeemer, friend and brother,
May I know you more clearly;
Love you more dearly;
And follow you more nearly.


Pilgrim Shrine

Chichester Cathedral is still today the seat of a bishop (Church of England), and the Roman Catholic diocese of Arundel and Brighton encompasses the city of Chichester in its universal agape.

Richard, the bishop, was canonized in 1262 by Pope Urban IV on 22 January. 3 April began to be celebrated as his feast day in all the Benedictine abbeys in England and today both English Catholics and Anglicans honor him on that day. The body of St. Richard was translated from its original burial place in the nave of Chichester Cathedral to an elaborate shrine on 16 June 1276.

"Until it was destroyed in 1538 by order of King Henry VIII, his shrine behind the high altar attracted almost as many pilgrims as Saint Thomas' shrine at Canterbury. The bones of the Saint were probably thrown away and the treasures were confiscated by the Crown. In recent times the site of the Shrine has increasingly been renewed as a center of devotion." In 2002-03, the Diocese celebrated the 750th anniversary of his death.

Art-filled Shrine

[Chichester arms]The Cathedral (1108-1184), "the most typical English Cathedral" (Pevsner), is enhanced by two Romanesque carvings, dated by various experts from 1000 to 1100-1150 A.D. They are remarkable for the sensitive modeling of the heads and the emotion shown in the face of Jesus. They depict the arrival of Christ at Bethany (John 11:33-37) and the raising of Lazarus (John 11:38-47). They are said to have considerably influenced modern sculptors, Eric Gill and Henry Moore among them. No glass in the cathedral survived the depredations of the Puritans in 1642. A window designed by Marc Chagall with the theme of Ps. 150, "Let everything that has breath praise the Lord," lights the retro-choir. Chichester's spire is Britain's only cathedral tower visible from sea.

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Research Resources

Borrelli, Antonio. "San Riccardo di Chichester, vescovo" (Santi e Beati, an encyclopedia of the saints in Italian).
Chichester Cathedral, [illustrated brochure of 16 pages], n.d.
Chichester Cathedral. Dean and Chapter.
St Richard of Chichester - 2003 was the 750th anniversary of St. Richard. The Diocese provided a brief life based on that of Friar Bocking, prayers, hymns, songs, litanies, and other relevant material.
Choral Evensong from Chichester Cathedral. 2013. YouTube.
Chichester District Council, UK. Internet website.
Gardiner, Rena for the Dean and Chapter of Chichester Cathedral.
The Story of St. Richard of Chichester Dorset: Workshop Press, 1980. [Primary source of information for this document; illus. with colorful drawings by the author.]
Gill, Eric (1882-1940), sculptor, typographer, native of Brighton, student at Chichester (Notre Dame).
Jones, David.
Saint Richard of Chichester: the sources for his life. Lewes, East Sussex: Sussex Record Society, v. 79, 1995 (most complete collection of sources).
Kiefer, James.
Richard, Bishop of Chichester, 3 April 1253. Internet article.
Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Timeline of Art History: Romanesque Art.
Saint Richard of Chichester Church, Philadelphia, PA. (My parents celebrated their wedding in this parish church, 1936.)
St. Richard of Chichester - Our Patron Saint.
Steer, Francis W.
A Walk Round Chichester Cathedral [four-page pamphlet], n.d.

A Note on Richard's Relics

"Even though his shrine and remains were destroyed during the Protestant Reformation, some of his holy relics (first- and second-class) were taken to Rome and are now housed in the Relic Archives of the 'Ufficio delle Reliquie' of the Vicariato di Roma, Piazza San Giovanni in Laterano 6, although fragments are no longer distributed for private veneration by this office. At least some of the bones of our patron escaped destruction!" (Richard Freeze, "St. Richard of Chichester Website," personal email, 16 April 1998).

"Richard" and its variants

Richard, a common name in many languages, often appears in an unfamiliar form as a proper, friendly or personal name for men or women and, more rarely, as a family or surname. Sometime folks don't even know that Saint Richard is their heavenly patron and advocate.

Baptismal and personal names: Dick, Dickie, Dicky, Hick, Hitch, Hudde, Karda, Reich, Reichard, Reichardt, Rhisiart, Ricard, Ricarda, Ricardo, Riccarda, Riccardina, Riccardo, Riccardu, Ricciardo, Richard, Richarda, Richarde, Richardine, Richart, Richenza, Richerd, Richie, Richli, Rick, Rickert, Rickert, Rickie, Ricky, Ricordano, Ridsert, Ridzart, Riek, Rikese, Rikitza, Rikkard, Riocard, Ritch, Ritchie, Ritsche.

Family or surnames: Cardi, Ricardoni, Riccardi, Riccardoni, Ricciardi, [Richard, Richards, Richardson, Ritchie]. (Adecec, 3.IV).


Head of Christ, Anglo-Saxon (1000) or Norman (ca. 1130):
photo by Nicholas Servain FIIP (postcard);
Site of the Saint Richard's Shrine: photo by Jeremy Marks;
both ©; Woodmansterne Publications Ltd, Watford WD1 8RD;
Drawings of St. Richard by Rena Gardiner.
All graphics used only for educational purposes.


Rev. 12 Oct. 2014 / ©1997-2014 by Richard Oliver OSB /