Chad (c.620-672)

2nd March

Last October (2001) a small group of hardy and long-suffering confirmation candidates from the three city-centre churches agreed to accompany me up to the North York Moors to a little village tucked away in the hills, not many miles from Pickering, called Lastingham. It was interesting that with all the knowledge and fascination that there has been in recent years about the Celtic Church, no-one knew anything about Lastingham.

Let Bede take up the story:

During his episcopate among the West Saxons, God’s servant Cedd often visited his own province of Northumbria to preach. Ethelwald, son of King Oswald, knowing Cedd to be a wise, holy and honourable man, asked him to accepte a grant of land to found a monastery. In accordance with the king’s wishes, Cedd chose a site for the monastery among some high, remote hills, which seemed more suitable for the dens of robbers and haunts of wild beasts than for human habitation.

The life of Celtic monks was in no way luxurious or romantic, so let’s get that image out of our minds, because it undermines the tradition and what we can learn from it. Cedd was the eldest of four brothers, all of whom were priests, and had been trained by St Aidan on Lindisfarne. The youngest of the four was Chad. Cedd, like his youngest brother, became a bishop, having been the apostle to East Anglia, and having built the church at Bradwell in Essex. When he returned to Lastingham however, he caught the plague and died. He was buried there. Chad became the Abbot of Lastingham in 664, but stayed there for only a short time for he, standing in that great tradition of missionary monks, would not, could not stay in one place but travelled about:

not on horseback, but after the manner of the apostles, on foot, to preach the Gospel in towns, the open country, cottages, villages, and castles; for he was one of the disciples of Aidan, and endeavoured to instruct his people by the same actions and behaviour , according to his and his brother Cedd’s example.

Chad was both Bishop of Mercia (based in Lichfield, where the cathedral bears his dedication) and Bishop of Lindisfarne. He died and was buried in Lichfield in 672.

To me, there is no holier place than the crypt in St Mary’s Church Lastingham. Do visit it - there’s a good pub in the village as well. The question is ‘why?’ when both Chad and his older brother Cedd spent so little time there. Well, they frequently returned there for a ‘spiritual top-up’. It was a place of stillness and quiet, of aloneness and testing asceticism - a heart from which these great missionaries could go out into the world, prepared for anything. Having drunk from the well, travelling light was what they did - and that is what we have to learn from them.

Andrew Deuchar
© St Peter's Church, Nottingham
Last revised 3rd March 2002