Born about the year 634, Chad was one of four brothers, all of whom became presbyters of the Church and two of whom became bishops. Chad was a disciple of Aidan, bishop and abbot of the monastery at Lindisfarne. He became abbot of the monastery at Lastingham upon the death of his brother Cedd, bishop and founder of that monastery. When the see of York became vacant on the death of Bishop Tuda, Alcfrith, sub-king of Deira in Northumbria, sent a presbyter named Wilfrid to Gaul to be consecrated bishop. With Wilfrid’s prolonged absence in Gaul, Oswiu, king of the Northumbrians, following the example of his son Alcfrith, sent Chad to Canterbury to be consecrated as bishop in Northumbria. On arriving in Kent, Chad discovered that Archbishop Deusdedit had died and that no successor had yet been chosen. Because of a dearth of bishops in England at the time, he then sought consecration at the hands of Wini, bishop among the West Saxons, who consecrated Chad to the episcopate with the assistance of two British bishops, both of whom had been consecrated according to the Celtic rite, that is, by a single bishop rather than by three bishops, as was (and is) the catholic practice. When Wilfrid returned to England, finding his see occupied by Chad, he retired to Ripon.
In his Ecclesiastical History of the English People, Bede the Venerable writes that Chad was a holy man, modest in his ways, learned in the Scriptures, and careful to practice all that he found in them. When he became a bishop, he devoted himself to maintaining the truth and purity of the Church and set himself to practicing humility and continence and to study. He traveled not on horseback but on foot when he went to preach the Gospel in the towns, villages, and countryside.
With the arrival of Theodore of Tarsus, newly-appointed archbishop of Canterbury and primate of all England, the administration and episcopal structure of the Church in England underwent reform. During his visitation of the various episcopal sees, Theodore consecrated bishops and recruited their assistance in helping to reform abuses. Finding Chad in the see of York and informing him that his consecration to the episcopate was irregular, at the hands of only one regularly consecrated bishop (the two British bishops who were co-consecrators having themselves been irregularly consecrated), Theodore removed Chad and elevated Wilfrid to the episcopal see. Chad replied to Theodore with great humility, “If you know that my consecration as bishop was irregular, I willingly resign the office; for I have never thought myself worthy of it. Although unworthy, I accepted it solely under obedience”; and thereafter retired to the monastery at Lastingham.
About that time the king of the Mercians asked Theodore to provide him and his people with a bishop. Recalling Chad’s humility, Theodore requested of king Oswiu that he send Chad to the Mercians as their bishop, and Theodore himself regularized Chad’s episcopal orders by consecrating him canonically. Arriving in Mercia, Chad established his episcopal see in the town of Lichfield, building himself a house near the church that he shared with several of his brethren and to which he would retire to study or to pray whenever his work and preaching permitted. He ruled the Church in Mercia and Lindsey for two and a half years, “in great holiness of life after the example of the early Fathers”, according to Bede. At the end of his episcopate he was struck down suddenly by a rapidly progressive illness, and after preparing for death by receiving the Body and Blood of our Lord, died on March 2 in the year 672. He was buried in Saint Mary’s Church, and when a church dedicated to Saint Peter the Apostle was later built in Lichfield, his body was transferred to that church. Bede writes that in both places frequent miracles of healing attested to his virtues.
prepared from the Ecclesiastical History of the English People
Almighty God, for the peace of the Church your servant Chad relinquished cheerfully the honors that had been thrust upon him, only to be rewarded with equal responsibility: Keep us, we pray, from thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought to think, and ready at all times to step aside for others, that the cause of Christ may be advanced; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
The icon of Saint Chad is taken from Aidan Hart’s gallery of icons and is reproduced here with his generous permission.
The propers for the commemoration of Chad, Bishop of Lichfield, are published on the Lectionary Page website.