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Relic of St Chad finds new home

11 November 2022

Pat Ashworth attended the dedication of a new shrine altar in Lichfield Cathedral

Simon Jones/Lichfield Diocese

The Bishop of Lichfield, Dr Michael Ipgrave, dedicating the shrine altar to St Chad in Lichfield Cathedral on Tuesday evening

The Bishop of Lichfield, Dr Michael Ipgrave, dedicating the shrine altar to St Chad in Lichfield Cathedral on Tuesday evening

A RELIC of St Chad has this week been placed in a new altar shrine at Lichfield Cathedral, the gift of the RC archdiocese of Birmingham and St Chad’s Cathedral. The move is the result of what the Dean of Lichfield, the Very Revd Adrian Dorber, called “years of patient dialogue and conversation” between the Roman Catholic and Anglican traditions.

It was a joyful service of ecumenical evening prayer in a packed cathedral on Tuesday, the feast of the Saints and Martyrs of England, and the 1350th anniversary of the saint’s death. Chad, Lichfield’s first bishop, was originally buried here. The new shrine, beneath a golden corona of light, is on the site of the medieval original, destroyed in the Dissolution.

A priest at the time is recorded as having retrieved some of the saint’s bones. These found their way to Birmingham and were eventually enshrined in the newly built RC Cathedral, dedicated in honour of St Chad, in 1839.

But Chad had been bishop of an undivided Church, Dean Dorber said. He described the saint as “perhaps a fitting patron of the unity we all seek.

“We know St Chad was a humble, godly man who, during his short tenure, helped to unite two warring peoples, bring hope and healing to the region, and thus inspired the construction of Lichfield Cathedral, with his shrine at the east end.

“As a relic of St Chad is so generously translated back to Lichfield, a part of the cathedral’s heart is restored, and St Chad’s ministry of healing continues through the ages.”

Inscribed on the new shrine altar are words of the Venerable Bede: “Christ is the morning star, who, when the night of this world is past, gives to his Saints the promise of the light of life and opens everlasting day.”

The reliquary had earlier been carried in procession from St Chad’s Well to the cathedral. The Bishop of Lichfield, Dr Michael Ipgrave, in a joint address with the RC Archbishop of Birmingham, the Most Revd Bernard Longley, acknowledged that the “language of relics” did not come naturally to many Anglicans, but was “the language of practice, memory, and remembrance. . . Relics are the traces of our brothers and sisters in Christ,” he said.

Archbishop Longley spoke warmly of the “great sense of joy and affection” in which the two traditions were held. Pride of place at the service went to schoolchildren from St Chad’s RC Primary School, Birmingham; St Michael’s C of E Primary School, Lichfield; and Lichfield Cathedral School, who later laid flowers around the shrine.

As with the reinterment of Richard III in Leicester Cathedral, there was a sense of history taking place. There were moments of drama — an organ fanfare sounded when Dr Ipgrave laid the reliquary on the new shrine — but the overall mood was humility. Canticles included “A Song of the Blessed”, and the readings were from Ecclesiasticus — “The greater you are, the more you must humble yourself” — and Luke 14: “For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Simon Jones/Lichfield DioceseThe Bishop of Lichfield, Dr Michael Ipgrave, and the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Birmingham, the Most Revd Bernard Longley

The combined choirs sang the 16th-century motet that is inscribed on the Pugin casket containing the saint’s relics at St Chad’s Cathedral, and Bede’s account of the death and early devotion to St Chad was read. There was a Celtic undercurrent: the sung response to the intercessions was to the traditional tune from north-east England Waters of Tyne. The paschal candle was lit from a shrine-altar candle, and the light was then passed around the cathedral as the congregation sang: “Let us build a house where love can dwell and all can safely live. . . All are welcome, all are welcome in this place.”

Dean Dorber presented the Dean of St Chad’s Cathedral and a representative of St Chad’s School with a maquette of Peter Walker’s statue of St Chad, which stands in the cathedral close. Sprigs of herbs were placed around the altar platform, and parishes, institutions, and communities dedicated in honour of St Chad were presented with a Verdun oak sapling from the cathedral’s remembrance garden, to be planted in their grounds.

The diocese of Lichfield’s choice of strapline — “Come follow Christ in the footsteps of St Chad” — pointed to a renewed emphasis on the legacy of Chad as a saint of the undivided Church, Dean Dorber concluded. Reinstating the shrine — and installing in the Lady Chapel icons depicting the stories of Jesus’s ministry — reminded visitors and pilgrims of “the faith we hold in Jesus, the one we share with our brothers and sisters around the world”.

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