Everything we know of this great hierarch comes from the writings of St. Bede in his “Ecclesiastical History”, written in 731.
St. Chad, the youngest of four brothers, was born into a humble Northumbrian family near the beginning of the seventh century. His brothers, St. Cedd, St. Cynebil and righteous Caelin all became monks. A family of saints, these four men studied under the great sainted-hierarch and monk, Aidan of Lindisfarne. Saint Aidan was a great source of spiritual insight to these four men, all four became priests of the holy Church. They were sent to Ireland under the great geronda (elder) and saint, Egbert, at the monastery of Rathmelsige (Melfont), for advanced study and training in the monastic life.
Chad worked tirelessly with his brother Cedd (who had been made bishop of London), they established the monastery of Laestingaeu, now Lastingham in Yorkshire. Upon the death of his brother Cedd in 664, Chad succeeded him as abbot.
St. Wilfrid was chosen to become bishop of Lindisfarne after the death of bishop Tudi. He travelled to Gaul for consecration and remained so long absent that King Oswiu (ruler of Northumbria) demanded a bishop. Having learned of the missionary exploits and great humility of Chad, called for his election as Bishop of York, to which place the See of Lindisfarne had been transferred.
St. Chad was consecrated (uncanonically) by Bishop Wini of Worcester and two schismatic British bishops to the See of York.
Saint Chad was hesitant to be bishop, he wanted no part of it, but ultimately he was obedient. As bishop of York, he was much beloved by his flock, travelling great distances on foot to care for his “little sheep.” When St. Wilfrid returned to York and found out his See was given away, he made no objection and retired to a monastery in peace. Saint Chad, a Celtic Bishop, played a huge role in unifying the Church in 664 by accepting and recommending to his fellow bishops the adoption of the Orthodox Nicaean calendar.
In the year 668, Saint Theodore of Tarsus assumed the central Cathedra and became Archbishop of Canterbury and immediately sought about reforming the churches in England and Ireland. Up until this time, the Church in the Isles was not following proper canonical order set down by the Ecumenical Councils. St. Theodore of Tarsus was sent by the Pope of Rome to restore order in the British and Irish churches. Saint Theodore was a wise bishop and a deeply spiritual monastic. While travelling to York he was shocked to find that St. Wilfrid was not the canonical bishop of York. The consecration of St. Chad was uncanonical due to three points made by St. Theodore:
1. The British bishops refused to acknowledge the canonical (Julian) Church calendar established by the Ecumenical Council of Nicea (of which Rome and the four Eastern Patriarchates adhered to)
2. The bishops were out of communion with the Universal Church.
3. An improperly performed consecration ceremony.
St. Theodore decided that in good church order, St. Chad must give up the See of York to it’s rightfully elected bishop, St. Wilfrid. St. Chad in astounding humility responded, “If you decide that I have not rightly received the episcopal character, I willingly lay down the office; for I have never thought myself worthy of it, but under obedience, I, though unworthy, consented to undertake it.” Seeing in him a true bishop, a man of such humble and angelic character, St. Theodore pleaded with Chad to continue in his archpastoral ministry. St. Theodore provided what was lacking from St. Chad’s consecration (“ipse ordinationem ejus denuo catholica ratione consummavit” – Bede, Hist. Eccl. IV, 2) and completed the rite according to the Orthodox Roman Rubricon. St. Wilfrid remained as bishop of York and St. Chad returned to his monastery in Lastingham.
In 669, King Wulfere demanded a bishop for his people in Mercia. St. Chad was called on by St. Theodore of Tarsus to be archpastor of the Mercian people. Mercia was a land of deeply rooted pagan beliefs, and a large area at that. St. Chad considered this to be his true work, bringing the Mercian people to Christ. He soon discovered that a great persecution occurred on the plains of Lichfield, deep within the Mercian lands. The Roman emperor Diocletian had exterminated 1000 martyrs on the plains of Lichfield in the year 303A.D, they are known as the Martyrs of Lichfield. St. Chad considering this to be a holy place moved the See of Mercia from Repton to the exact spot of the massacre in Lichfield, where his new diocesan Cathedral and Monastery were to built. St. Chad is considered the first bishop of Lichfield.
As Bishop of Lichfield, Chad carried out his missionary and pastoral work with zeal. The kingdom of Mercia was huge, and Chad spent much of his time travelling by foot. In accordance with the Celtic tradition, in which he had been brought up, he at first insisted on making all journeys on foot, following the example of the apostles. However, St. Theodore insisted that Chad used a horse for long journeys. St. Chad, unwilling to do anything that he felt would put him above the common man, refused, but Theodore, St. Bede tells us, “lifted Chad bodily onto the horse himself.”
His exploits were known throughout all Mercia, St. Chad was known to have retired, from time to time, to the bottom of a smalll well where he could contemplate and “pray without ceasing.” The people would say that they knew when St. Chad was in his well, “a light like that of the sun, would shine from the bottom of the well.” St. Chad was seen in the uncreated light by countless many. His humble prayers could easily cure illnesses and demonic possession. A gifted man of prayer he was also a source of forgiveness even to those who would seek his destruction.
King Wulfere was a pagan, but also a good statesman. He used Christianity to control his subjects, he secretly despised the Faith. One day, the sons of Wulfere, Princes Wulfade and Ruffin were out hunting a dear near the saint’s cell, when they approached the saint and asked about “the One called Jesus”. So struck by the holy elder’s words they both asked to be immediately baptised into Christ’s holy Church. Wulfere, so enraged by the actions of his sons, killed them with his own hands. Afterwards, filled with such remorse the King suffered in both body and spirit by the loss of his children. He was counselled by his queen to ask the holy elder to forgive him and to hear his confession. As he approached the holy hierarch’s cell he was witness to a great sight, the uncreated light of Tabor that shown upon the saint’s visage. The king fell down in prostrate and begged his forgiveness and to truly bring him into the Orthodox Christian faith. As a penance for the murder of his children, the saint told him to build churches and monasteries in the name of Jesus Christ. He did so, and up until the end of the saint’s earthly life, King Wulfere remained a humble servant of the holy elder.
Owini, a novice monk under St. Chad’s care, was working alone in the fields near Chad’s residence. When he heard the sound of singing apparently descending from the sky to the rectory where the saint was praying. The angelic chanting could be heard for half an hour before returning heavenwards. Chad then summoned his monks and, after urging them to live good Christian lives and to continue in keeping the rules of monastic discipline, announced that he would soon die. When the other fathers had gone away, Owini returned to Chad and begged to know what the singing had been that he had heard. St. Chad replied that he had been visited by angelic hosts summoning him to heaven and that the angels would return in seven days to take him to heaven. He then commanded the young monk to tell no one of this until after his death.
St. Chad was quickly taken ill (probably by the plague) and on the seventh day (March 2, 672), “his holy soul was released from the prison-house of the body and, one may rightly believe, was taken by the angels to the joys of heaven”. St. Chad was bishop of Lichfield and Mercia for just three years, his emulation of Christ ended as it began.
Bede goes on to tell us that he was called “saint” immediately after his death. Miracles and cures of all ailments occurred at the place of his death, his reliquary, his well and anywhere his holy relics travelled.
His holy relics are preserved in the Roman Catholic Cathedral that bears his name in Birmingham, England.