Richard de Wych and his older brother Robert were orphaned when quite young, and their father’s rich estate was left in the care of a guardian. Richard was studious from early on, preferring books to almost anything else, but he remained at home for several years to restore the fortunes of the family estate after the guardian’s mismanagement had caused the estate’s worth to dwindle. After refusing an advantageous marriage, Richard left the estate in his brother’s care and went to Oxford, where he studied under such teachers as Robert Grosseteste (later bishop of Lincoln). Richard continued his studies in canon law in Paris and Bologna, returning after seven years’ doctoral studies to Oxford to become Chancellor. Shortly thereafter, his former tutor, Edmund Rich, who had become Archbishop of Canterbury, appointed Richard as his chancellor. Richard shared Edmund’s ideals of clerical reform and resistance to secular power where appropriate. The friendship between the primate and his young assistant grew close, and when conflict with King Henry the Third eventually forced Archbishop Rich into exile in France, Richard accompanied the primate and nursed him during his final illness. After the archbishop’s death, Richard determined to enter holy orders and studied with the Dominicans at Orleans. He was ordained to the presbyterate in 1243.
After his ordination, Richard served as a parish priest, but he was reappointed chancellor by Boniface of Savoy, Archbishop of Canterbury after Edmund Rich. In 1244 Richard was elected bishop of Chichester, but King Henry the Third and part of the Chapter refused to accept him, while Boniface refused to confirm the election of a rival. Both sides appealed to the pope, and Innocent the Fourth confirmed Richard’s election and consecrated him bishop at Lyons in 1245. Richard returned to Chichester, but King Henry, who had already seized the properties and revenues of the see, locked him out of the episcopal dwelling and did not restore the diocesan properties for two years. During this time Richard took lodging with Simon of Tarring, a priest of the diocese, and he functioned as a missionary bishop, traveling about his see on foot, visiting fishermen and farmers, holding synods with great difficulty, and endeavoring to establish order. (He cultivated figs in such spare time as he had.) Threatened by the pope, Henry finally acknowledged Richard as bishop in 1246, but the diocesan properties were in a dilapidated state by this time.
Contemporaries reckoned Richard to be a model diocesan bishop. He served his diocese for eight years as a preacher, confessor, teaching, and counselor. He was charitable and accessible, both stern and merciful to sinners, and extraordinarily generous to those stricken by famine. He saw to it that the sacraments were administered without payment, that Mass was celebrated in dignified conditions, and that the clergy resided in their cures. The laity were expected to attend church on Sundays and holy days and to know by heart the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, and the Ave Maria.
He contracted a mortal fever while campaigning for a new crusade against the Saracens and died in 1253. He was canonized nine years after his death, and he is traditionally depicted with a chalice at his feet, in memory of his having once dropped the chalice at the eucharist, which by legend remained unspilled. His best remembered words are a brief prayer which has been given several musical settings:
Dear Lord, of thee three things I pray: to see thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, follow thee more nearly.
prepared from Lesser Feasts and Fasts (1980)
and The Oxford Dictionary of Saints
We thank you, Lord God, for all the benefits you have given us in your Son Jesus Christ, our most merciful Redeemer, Friend, and Brother, and for all the pains and insults he has borne for us; and we pray that, following the example of your saintly bishop Richard of Chichester, we may see Christ more clearly, love him more dearly, and follow him more nearly; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
The propers for Richard, Bishop of Chichester, are published on the Lectionary Page website.