Richard Of Chichester Biography

Richard of Chichester (also known as Richard de Wych or variations thereof) (1197 – 3 April 1253) is a saint (canonized 1262) who was Bishop of Chichester. His original shrine in Chichester Cathedral was a richly-decorated centre of pilgrimage which was destroyed in 1538.

Richard was born in the town of Wyche (modern Droitwich, Worcestershire) and was an orphan member of a gentry family. On the death of their parents Richard's elder brother was heir to the estates but he was not old enough to inherit, so the lands were subject to a feudal wardship; on coming of age his brother took possession of his lands but would have had to pay a medieval form of death duty that left him so impoverished, that he had to get Richard to work for him on the farm. It seems that Richard worked so well on the farm that his brother made him heir to the estate. According to Richard's biographers, his friends tried to arrange a match with a certain noble lady However Richard turned down the offer of marriage, suggesting that his brother might marry her instead, and he also reconveyed the estates back to his brother, preferring a life of study and the church.

Educated at Oxford, he soon began to teach in the university. From there he proceeded to Paris and then Bologna, where he distinguished himself by his proficiency in canon law. On return to England in 1235 he was elected chancellor of Oxford University.

His former tutor, Edmund of Abingdon, had become archbishop of Canterbury. Richard shared Edmund's ideals of clerical reform and the rights of the Pope over the king. Then in about 1237 the archbishop made him chancellor of the diocese of Canterbury. Richard was with the archbishop during his exile at Pontigny and also when the archbishop died in about 1240. Richard then decided to become a priest and studied theology for two years with the Dominicans at Orléans.

When he returned to England, he became the parish priest at Charing and at Deal, but soon after was reappointed chancellor of Canterbury by archbishop Boniface of Savoy. In 1244 he was elected Bishop of Chichester. Henry III and part of the chapter refused to accept him, the king favouring the candidature of Robert Passelewe (d. 1252). Boniface refused to confirm the election of Passelew and so both sides appealed to the pope. The king confiscated the properties and revenues of the see, but Innocent IV confirmed the election of Richard and consecrated him bishop at Lyons in March 1245. Richard then returned to Chichester, but the sees properties were not restored for two years and then only after the king had been threatened with excommunication. Meanwhile Richard lived at Tarring in the parish priest's house, visited his diocese on foot, and cultivated figs in his spare time.

In his private life he is said to have observed the most rigid frugality and temperance. Richard's diet was simple and he rigorously excluded animal flesh from it; having been a vegetarian since his days at Oxford.

Richard's episcopate was marked by the favour which he showed to the Dominicans, a house of this order at Orléans having sheltered him during his stay in France, and by his earnestness in preaching a crusade. After dedicating St Edmund's Chapel at Dover, he died aged 56 at the Maison Dieu, Dover at midnight on 3 April 1253, where he had been ordered by the Pope to preach a crusade. His internal organs were removed and placed in that chapel's altar, before Richard's body was carried to Chichester where it was buried, according to his wishes, in the chapel on the north side of the nave, the chapel that had been dedicated to his patron St. Edmund. His body remained there until it was translated to its new shrine in 1276.