The twentieth day of Lent

Thursday after 3 Lent

Saint Richard was Bishop of Chichester in the 13th century. He and his brother and sister were orphaned as children and impoverished by the mismanagement of their estates by their guardians. Though he aspired to a life of scholarship, Richard first restored the family fortunes and handed the estates over to his brother. He studied at Oxford, Paris, and Bologna, thinking nothing of the poverty in which he lived, and which prepared him well for his later life. He became Chancellor of the University of Oxford and, about 1235, his mentor Edmund, Archbishop of Canterbury, made Richard Chancellor of the Diocese of Canterbury. When Edmund was exiled by the King in a controversy over the conflicting prerogatives of Church and State,, Richard went with him to France. After the death of Edmund, Richard studied with the Dominicans at Orleans. He was ordained to the priesthood and returned to England to serve as a parish priest.

In 1244, the Bishop of Chichester died and the canons elected Richard to succeed him. King Henry III was furious when the canons of Chichester chose Richard than his own candidate whom they deemed unworthy, and he seized control of the diocesan assets. Undeterred, Richard entered took up his episcopal duties without pay. Dependent for his support upon the charity of those who were willing to defy the King, he traveled about his diocese, ministering to clergy and laity, instituting reforms, and setting an example of holiness to his people. Finally, in 1247, Henry ceased his opposition and Richard entered into the full dignity of his office. Nevertheless, he preferred the simple lifestyle he had practiced for so long and gave away much of his revenue in charity. He was much loved for his kindness, his preaching, and for his defense of the rights of the Church. His episcopate was not long. He died in 1253, surrounded by friends, and was buried in a simple tomb in Chichester Cathedral.

Veneration for the holy man continued after his death. His tomb became a popular place of pilgrimage and miracles were attributed to his intercession. He was canonized just nine years after his death. One of the most charming miracle stories connects him to the blackbirds who have been part of our Lenten journey. It seems that a student at Oxford had a pet blackbird whose singing gave its owner much pleasure. Another student coveted the bird and when the owner refused to give it to him, he cut out its tongue, silencing the bird. The owner was heartbroken but remembered that Saint Richard had been Chancellor of Oxford and was also said to have loved the singing of birds. So he prayed to Richard and once again the bird began to sing.

A Prayer of Saint Richard

Thanks be to thee, my Lord Jesus Christ,
For all the benefits that thou hast given me;
For all the pains and insults thou hast borne for me.

Oh, most merciful redeemer, friend and brother,
May I know thee more clearly;
Love thee more dearly;
And follow thee more nearly,
Day by day. Amen.



The BlackbirdFiltered file heard on this page is from the freesoundproject, uploaded by acclivity. It is used here under a Creative Commons License.


forward to The twenty-first day of Lent

back to  A Full Homely Lent

Full Homely Divinity Home Page