Detail from the Altar Reredos, St Chad’s College Chapel, University of Durham
Today, March 2nd, the Church keeps the feast day of St. Chad. In a rich and eventful life there is too much to mention, so I thought I would say something about his birthday into heaven.
Appointed the first Bishop of Lichfield, in what was then the Kingdom of Mercia, Chad established his church and monastery there. Chad also sought solitude, in the custom of the Celts and Anglo-Saxons, by building a house away from the church to which he could retire quietly to pray and study whenever his missionary duties permitted. In Celtic style he also trained up others to carry out the work of mission, as he himself had been trained by St. Aidan on Lindisfarne. One of those he trained was Winfrid who succeeded him as Bishop. him as Bishop. Chad was to be bishop for only three more years for in 672 the Plague struck again.
The Venerable Bede in his Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation, records the event:
When he had ruled the church of the province with great success for two and a half years, heaven sent a plague which, bringing bodily death, bore away the living stones of the Church to the Temple in heaven.”
The date of his death was March 2nd 672.
It was accompanied by a premonition 7 days before it happened. A monk working outside Chad’s oratory heard a joyful melody of persons singing sweetly which descended from heaven into the bishop’s cell, accompanied by a great light. Half an hour later the sound ceased and Chad called the brother asking him to bring his companions. When they entered the oratory he urged them to preserve peace, be faithful in prayer and observe the discipline of the monastic life. He asked them to pray for him as he approached death and he begged them to remember their own deaths which would come at an uncertain hour – they must be vigilant, prayerful and given to good works,
The brother who had first heard the singing asked Chad from where it had come.“They were angelic spirits” replied Chad “who came to call me to my heavenly reward, Which I have always longed after.”
Shortly after he fell into the throes of his final illness which grew steadily worse until 7 days later, having received the eucharistic sacrament, he died – or as Bede puts it:
“his soul being delivered from the prison of the body, the angels, as may justly be believed, attending him, he departed to the joys of heaven.”
Bede then comments that “it was no wonder that he joyfully beheld the day of his death, or rather the day of our Lord, which he had always carefully expected till it came; for notwithstanding his many merits of continence, humility, teaching, prayer, voluntary poverty, and other virtues, he was so full of the fear (Love) of God, so mindful of his last end in all his actions…”
He died as he had lived, deeply within the love of God.
He combined the Celtic love of mission with a firm conviction that nothing is accomplished without prayer.
His life was one of active Proclamation of the Gospel but whenever he could he would retire to the solitude of communion with God – a lesson he had well learned at Lindisfarne.
Whilst his call was to the Market Place of the world his heart was always travelling towards heaven.