Celts to the Creche: Day 14
A Band of Brothers:
Sts. Cedd, Chad, Cynibil, and Caelin
On the 14th day of our journey with the Celts to the Creche, we meet the band of brothers from Anglia, all ordained priests: Cedd, Chad (Celtic name is Cædda), Cynibil, and Cælin. These four brothers, all educated by St. Aidan on Lindisfarne (see day 1 of Celts to the Creche), through their diligent and faithful work in Mercia, East Anglia, and Northumbria helped transform the 7th century Celts and Anglo-Saxons from pagans to Christians. Most of what we know about these priestly brothers comes from Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People, Book III and through archaeology.
Cynibil and Cælin: Let us begin first with the lesser known two of the four brothers, Cynibil and Cælin. Bede portrays Cælin as a priest and a chaplain of King Oswald’s son, Ethelwald, who ruled the coastal area of Deira, the southern part of Northumbria.
It was on the initiative of Cælin that King Ethelwald donated land about 654 for the building of a monastery that was also to serve as a royal mausoleum. From what Bede implies we get the idea that the place that Cedd chose, at Lastingham in the North Yorkshire Moors, 18 miles west of modern day Scarborough was a bit of a surprise. The place chosen was not in the wealthy farmlands of Yorkshire, but in a rather wild, unlawful place that needed to be cleansed both physically and spiritually before it could be used for God. To purify the site, Cedd undertook a forty-day fast of only a little milk and bread, and an egg at Lent, but for some reason, Cedd needed to relinquish the fast and his brother Cynibil, who was also a priest took over the fast on the thirtieth day.
Cedd’s Life: In 653, Cedd began preaching the Gospel in Mercia when Paeda, son of King Penda of Mercia became a Christian and allowed monks from Lindisfarne to evangelize among his people. Cedd was consecrated at Lindisfarne in 654.
Later, Cedd was made Bishop to the East Saxons in East Anglia when Sigibert II, the King of the East Saxons had recently become a Christian. Cedd was the founder of monasteries at Tilbury on the Thames estuary and at Bradwell-on-Sea located on the north shore of the River Blackwater, ten miles south of Colchester. There is nothing left of Tilbury, but the chapel of Bradwell-on-Sea still stands and is being used today.
Bradwell-on-Sea was a shore fort in Roman times known as Othona. St. Cedd, as a majority of the early Celtic/Anglo-Saxon monastic founders did, used an abandoned Roman fort to establish their monastery. It made sense to reuse these forts since they were usually established along Roman Roads where there was access to water and they were able to get food and supplies quicker and easier. The forts were so sturdily constructed that the monastery could build inside the still standing walls or on top of almost indestructible Roman foundations. The already cut stone could be used to construct other buildings.
St. Cedd established his monastery that he called Ythancaestir within the old Othona Roman fort walls in 653, which survives today as the restored chapel of St. Peter-on-the-Wall, one of the oldest churches in Britain. Cedd’s Cathedral was constructed where the gatehouse of the fort had been, so it was literally built on the wall of the fort. Hence the name, “Saint Peter-on-the-Wall.”
When King Sigeberht II consorted with a thegn whom Cedd had excommunicated for an irregular marriage, Cedd’s reproach and rebuke were believed to be the cause of Sigeberht II’s murder by his own family c.660. Cedd baptized the successor, Swithhelm, at Rendlesham, the manor of the East Anglian kings, very close to Sutton Hoo (where the amazing hoard of late 6th c. Angl0-Saxon treasure was found in a ship burial).
Cedd’s Place of Resurrection: Cedd was Bishop of the East Saxons from 654 until 664, when Cedd was struck with the plague after being a translator at the famous Synod of Whitby that was presided over by St. Hilda (see day 2 of Celts to the Creche). Bede says that although Cedd followed Celtic customs rather than those of Rome, “he was in that council a most careful interpreter for both parties.”
Before his death, Cedd sent for his younger brother Chad to come replace him as Abbot at Lastingham. When Cedd’s community at Bradwell heard about his death, 30 of them travelled up the coast to say their good-bye’s. Sadly, Chad ended up burying thirty of the monks, including his two brothers, Cedd and either Cælin or Cynibil. Cedd was buried outside the first church at Lastingham and his remains were translated to the right of the high altar upon the building of a new stone church.
There are two holy wells at Lastingham in honor of Cedd and his younger brother Chad.
Chad’s Life: After being taught at Lindisfarne, Chad was sent to Ireland for further study. Chad succeeded Cedd as the Abbot of Lastingham, but soon King Oswy of Northumbria sent him south to Canterbury to be consecrated as the bishop of York. When Chad arrived about 668, he found that the Archbishop of Canterbury, Deusdedit had died of the plague and a replacement had not been installed. So Chad travelled onto Wessex where he was consecrated by Bishop Wine. Wilfrid, a supporter of the Roman way instead of the Celtic way personally ousted Chad from York as he said that Chad’s consecration was noncanonical, not a true one since he was not installed by the Archbishop of Canterbury. (Wilfrid was not popular with the Celtic leadership, especially not with the Lindisfarne community and St. Hilda of Whitby).
Chad becomes Bishop of Mercia: Probably dancing and rejoicing with relief at not having the huge extra responsibilities of serving as a Bishop, Chad returned to his beloved Lastingham. But soon the King of Mercia asked for a bishop and the newly installed Archbishop of Canterbury, Theodore of Tarsus appointed Chad as the Bishop of Mercia. Seems like when we get a calling, even if it is postponed or triangulated in some way, that the Spirit has a way of working around those human-made changes/bumps/detours along our path.
Even though this was a huge territory, Chad began traveling on foot through his sparsely populated diocese, as his Celtic teacher and mentor St. Aidan of Lindisfarne had done. When the Archbishop of Canterbury Theodore saw Chad on foot, he was horrified and gave him a horse. Chad refused to mount the horse and the Archbishop had him forcibly placed on the saddle.
Chad made his Mercian diocese headquarters at Lichfield near Tamworth on an ancient holy site. There is a huge stone buried beneath the high altar that appears to be the altar stone of a temple dating from 1000 BC. It is thought that there was a church there even before Chad’s time and he built a monastery nearby.
Near the monastery was a pool or well where Chad baptized converts and it is said that he stood naked in the freezing water to pray and to mortify his flesh. Bede recorded that Chad built himself a house near the church where he used to retire privately with seven or eight brethren in order to pray or study whenever his work and preaching permitted.
Chad’s Place of Resurrection: After only three years as Bishop of Mercia, Chad like his brothers died of the plague on March 2, 672 at Lichfield. Thirty years later, a a small timber cathedral was built over his tomb that contained Chad’s Celtic house-shaped shrine. Bede described it this way:
“a wooden monument, made like a little house covered, having a hole in the wall, through which those that go thither for devotion usually put in their hand and take out some dust, which they put into water and give to sick cattle or men to taste, upon which they are presently eased of their infirmity and restored to health.”
After the Dissolution of the Monasteries, various ones preserved and passed down the relics of St. Chad. Some of his bones are believed to lie today in the Roman Catholic cathedral in Birmingham.
Lichfield Gospels: Chad’s Gospels (also known as the Lichfield Gospels) is a magnificent illuminated manuscript likely produced in the 8th century by a scribe who may have studied the beautifully decorated Lindisfarne Gospels. Some think that the Lichfield Gospels may have been made in memory of St. Chad. This gospel book can be seen in Lichfield Cathedral.
21st c. Discoveries at Lichfield: In 2003, a remarkable archaeological discovery was made while trying to install a retractable platform in the nave of the church. It had been thought that the original church of Chad had been located west of the Church of St. Mary.
Evidence of the original Anglo-Saxon Cathedral and the second Norman nave was found. Even several burials were uncovered. At the east end of the site a sunken chamber was discovered with the embellishment of a canopy marking its honor and reverence. Such a structure suggested a shrine or grave and the position accorded with the description by Bede. This leads the archaeologists to believe that this is the original position of the shrine of St. Chad, built by Hedda early in the 8th Century.
Lichfield Angel: Also recovered from the excavation were three fragments of an Anglo-Saxon sculptured limestone panel. The pieces together form a half of one side of a hollowed limestone block. The stone carving depicts an angel, quite likely to be Gabriel with his right hand raised in blessing and the left bearing a foliate sceptre.
The figure of the angel is covered with Anglo-Saxon red pigment and the feathered wings are red with white tips. The background seems to be pure white. It is speculated that this is one half of an Annunciation scene – with the angel Gabriel and the other part, possibly still beneath the floor, being the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The carved limestone panel, which is dated to around 800 A.D., comprises three separate fragments which are thought to have formed the corner of a shrine chest, possibly that of St. Chad.
Another discovery was made in 2011 while pulling up some of Lichfield’s stone floor to lay cabling for lighted cabinets to display some pieces of the Staffordshire Hoard. Three skeletons were uncovered, two of them were likely Saxon burials and one was an infant of a later period. So, new discoveries continue to be made at this historic and sacred place.
Feast Day of St. Cedd, October 26
Feast Day of St. Chad, March 2
A Collect of St. Chad
from the fruits of the English nation who turned to Christ,
you called your servant Chad
to be an evangelist and bishop of his people:
give us grace so to follow his peaceable nature,
humble spirit and prayerful life,
that we may truly commend to others
the faith which we ourselves profess;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
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Bradwell-on-Sea Chapel. http://www.bradwellchapel.org
Brown, Michelle P. How Christianity Came to Britain and Ireland. Oxford, UK: Lion Hudson, 2006.
Cave, Diana. Saint Cedd: Seventh-Century Celtic Saint. London: PublishNation, 2015.
“Chad, St” by R. C. Love in Lapidge, Blair, Keynes, and Scragg, eds. The Blackwell Encyclopaedia of Anglo-Saxon England.
Dales, Douglas. Light to the Isles: Mission and Theology in Celtic and Anglo-Saxon Britain. Cambridge, James Clarke & Co., 1997.
Eddius Stephanus. “Life of Wilfrid,” Chapter 14, in The Age of Bede, trans. by J. F. Webb and edited by D.H. Farmer. London: Penguin Books, reprinted 2004.
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Lichfield Cathedral. http://lichfield-cathedral.org
Rees, Elizabeth. An Essential Guide to Celtic Sites and Their Saints. London: Burns & Oates, 2003.
___________.Celtic Saints: Passionate Wanderers. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2000.
St. Mary’ Lastingham: Ancient Crypt Church. Lastingham, UK: Lastingham Parochial Church Council. 1997.
St. Chad’s Gospels. http://www.lichfield-cathedral.org/st-chads-gospels
Tristram, Kate. The Story of Holy Island: An illustrated history. Norwich, UK: Canterbury Press, 2009.