The Relics of St Chad

The Relics of St ChadFor hundreds of years pilgrims visited the Shrine of St Chad in Lichfield to pray to him and many miracles were recorded as a result. In 1538 the Shrine was dismantled under the orders of King Henry VIII and the bones of St Chad either destroyed or buried in an unknown location.

One of the priests at the Cathedral, Prebendary Arthur Dudley, rescued a box containing some of St Chad’s bones which was kept in St Chad’s Head Chapel. He asked two female relatives, probably his nieces who lived at Russells Hall, Dudley, to look after them. They in turn passed them on to two brothers, Henry and William Hodgetts, who lived at Woodsetton Farm at Sedgley near Wolverhampton. They divided the bones between them. William died in 1649 and his widow gave his share of the bones to Henry who reputedly kept them hidden on the top of his four-poster bed.

When Henry was dying in 1651 he received the Last Rites from a Jesuit priest, Fr Anthony Turner. During the Litany of the Saints Henry began adding ‘St Chad, pray for me’. Fr Turner enquired why he was so devoted to St Chad and he explained that he had some of St Chad’s bones in his possession. He handed them over to Fr Turner who wrote down all that Henry had told him about the relics and how they had come to him through the Dudley family. Fr Turner had his statement witnessed by two other Jesuits and they had a new casket made, covered in red velvet and with silver hinges and locks, made for the relics.

The Jesuits eventually handed the bones over to Basil Fitzherbert of Swynnerton Hall, near Stoke-on-Trent, for safe-keeping. Basil died in 1797 and his widow and eight-years old son moved to a smaller house at Aston by Stone. Here a chapel was built and served as Mass centre for the surrounding district. The family eventually moved back to Swynnerton, and Aston Hall and its chapel was closed up.

In 1839 the chapel was reopened by Fr Benjamin Hulme and he discovered a chest underneath the altar in which was a velvet-covered box containing a collection of relics, including six bones wrapped in silk with Fr Turner’s document. The bones were taken to Oscott and examined by Bishop Thomas Walsh, the Vicar Apostolic of the Midland District, and his coadjutor, Bishop Nicholas Wiseman. After careful perusal of all the evidence a report was sent to Rome and Pope Gregory XVI confirmed that these were the bones of St Chad and instructed that they be enshrined in the new cathedral in Birmingham which was in the process of construction. They were placed in a shrine designed by Pugin above the High Altar on the day of its consecration on 21 June 1841. The shrine, which Pugin based on the Venerable Bede’s description of the original at Lichfield, was further embellished by Hardmans in 1931.

In 1995 Archbishop Maurice Couve de Murville arranged for a fresh examination of the bones by the University of Oxford Archaeology Unit. The report concluded that one of the bones is eighth century (and therefore cannot have belonged to St Chad) but the other five are all of the mid-seventh century. Two of the bones are left femurs and so are of different individuals. It is therefore reasonably certain that at least one and possibly three of the bones are those of St Chad. The evidence from the scientific examination was published in a Decree issued in 1997 by Archbishop Couve de Murville which required that the bones are kept together and venerated collectively.

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