‘Here is a saint essentially English, close to us in circumstance and in character, paralleled in our own day. Richard of Wych was [born in 1197], the second son of a wealthy Worcestershire county family, early left an orphan. At his coming of age his brother found that they were much impoverished through the gross mismanagement of their estates, whereupon the intellectual Richard unselfishly delayed his going up to Oxford in order to act as his brother's bailiff. With characteristic thoroughness and energy, he studied farming so that he could undertake the improvement of the land. When at last he began his studies at Oxford he had to live in great poverty, being defrauded by the priest to whom he had entrusted his property: so poor were the three friends who lived together that they had only one gown between them and had to take it by turn to attend lectures. But despite all hardships Richard’s nature expanded in the academic atmosphere, and he later referred to his Oxford years as the happiest of his life. He then went to Paris, and on to the University of Bologna, where for seven years he studied and taught Canon Law. His fame spread, and he was chosen by the saintly Edmund Rich, Archbishop of Canterbury, to be his Chancellor and secretary. Richard served him with utter devotion, relieving him as far as he could of the turmoil of external affairs, being consistently courteous to those who sought the Archbishop’s aid; learning from him the while the secrets of a holy life, so that master and disciple leant equally one upon the other. He shared Edmund’s exile in France; after his friend’s death he studied theology in Orleans, where he lived most ascetically until he was there ordained priest. When Richard returned to his own land he became a country parish priest.
When the see of Chichester fell vacant, the Cathedral Chapter and the Archbishop of Canterbury desired the appointment of Richard, but Henry III wanted to fill it with a most unworthy person. Then began one of the familiar struggles between King and Church. Richard went to take counsel with the Pope and was consecrated Bishop, but on his return he found his episcopal manors confiscated and his entry into his cathedral city forbidden by royal command. So the dispossessed Bishop contented himself with living quietly with the parish priest of the fishing village of Tarring, and from there going about among his people, learning their problems and their wants at their own level, ignoring the scorn of the King’s courtiers and the rudeness of royal servants. His gentle dignity gradually gained recognition and his patience won the day when in 1243 Henry had to give way before the Pope’s threat of interdict, and Richard at last became truly Bishop. And how he blossomed; for he loved hospitality, “his charity was as wide as the halls of his palace”...Yet his warm hospitality and gracious manner disguised a personal hidden life of austerity; fasting, vigil, the ground for his bed. His almsgiving was so generous that in a time of dire famine there would have been nothing left to give away had not Richard's soldier-brother come to live with him and take charge of the household, becoming the bursar of the palace.
Richard had essentially the pastoral heart; he loved to tend the sick, help the miserable, teach and preach to his flock. His last year was spent in what would now be termed a mission to the diocese, which he began from his own cathedral; then he journeyed throughout Sussex and Kent, preaching with such fervour that everywhere crowds came, hung on his words, and responded. He was called to preach the crusade in Westminster Abbey. Back in his own diocese he gave himself no rest, but soon started again on one of his preaching tours. At Dover he did what he had wanted to do for years: he consecrated a church, with a cemetery set aside for the poor, in honour of his beloved patron Blessed Edmund. This fulfilment of his dearest wish he took to be a sign of his approaching death, and lo, the very next day he fell ill of a fever and, though nursed devotedly by his friend the priest Simon of Tarring, he died [in 1253], joyfully looking forward to going to the Father. He was buried in his cathedral at Chichester before the altar of Blessed Edmund: such was the renown of his holiness, he was canonised in 1262; and Chichester honours him to this day’.
Sibyl Harton, 1898-1993
Most merciful Redeemer, who gavest to thy Bishop Richard a love of learning, a zeal for souls, and a devotion to the poor: grant that, encouraged by his example, and aided by his prayers, we may know thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, and follow thee more nearly, day by day; who livest and reignest with the Father in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal.
Fr Lee Kenyon