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Mark Olly is a Cheshire writer and archaeologist who runs the Celtic Warrington Project Archaeological Unit. You can read about Mark's work in the 'Celtic Warrington & Other Mysteries' volumes.

 

CHAD OF THE MERSEY
by
Mark Olly

 
Chadkirk

 
Where the Mersey enters Manchester in the form of the river Goyt is the town of Marple, once in Old Cheshire and called 'MEERPOOL'. A short walk from the centre is the area known as 'CHADKIRK' ('CHAD'S-KIRK') , named after St. Chad, a disciple of St. Aidan, who was sent by St. Columba to convert the heathens along the Mersey valley during the seventh century (600-700 AD) - but not on behalf of the Church of Rome !

Significantly, as a disciple of St. Aidan of Lindisfarne, he represented Celtic rather than Roman Christianity and his brother, St. Cedd, also became a Celtic bishop to the East Saxons, founding many churches and monasteries. The British Celtic church adapted the liturgies and theologies of Middle Eastern, Egyptian, Byzantine, and Frankish Christianity to create a very different form to that of the Roman Catholic variety. Below:Chadkirk

chadkirk
   

St. Chad
 
Most of what we know about St. Chad has been written by Bede in his 'A History Of The English Church And People' written in Northumbria in 731 AD and, despite being of Roman persuasion, Bede had a very high regard for St. Chad.

Chad was born in Anglo-Saxon Northumbria to Ceawlin and educated from about the age of twelve with his three brothers, Cedd, Cynebil and Caelin, at the monastery of Lindisfarne under St. Aidan. All four eventually graduated as priests in the Celtic Church, St. Chad in Ireland in 653 AD at the age of thirty. It was St. Chad who helped convert King Penda of Mercia after Penda had killed his Christian rival King Oswald at Winwick near Warrington.

St. Chad became famous for his diplomatic nature and always travelled on foot, giving a horse given to him by King Oswin of Northumbria to a beggar - until Archbishop Theodore insisted on him riding a horse. He also acted as interpreter between Celtic and Roman Saxon church leaders at the 'Council Of Whitby' convened by King Oswy of Northumbria in 664 AD to decide which form of Christianity would continue as the basis for the church. Here Roman Christianity, championed by St. Wilfrid, won the day.
 

The Sacred Well

 
chadkirk sacred wellAs you would expect from a Saint associated with water, Chadkirk has an ancient sacred well a short way further up the road from Chadkirk Chapel, just over the stone bridge by the farm to the left side of the road. There is a legend which says that a hart (deer) disturbed St. Chad while he was alone in his cell by the spring and, after drinking and departing, it was followed by Wulfhade son of King Wulfhere of Mercia in hot pursuit. Wulfhade asked St. Chad if he had seen the hart and Chad replied that it had been sent that way by God to lead Wulfhade to him to hear the Christian message. Wulfhade replied that he would be more likely to convert from Paganism if Chad's prayers could bring the hart back.

Chad duly prayed and the hart ran out of the forest and stood before Wulfhade who fell at Chad's feet, converted and asked for baptism. Later Wulfhade brought his brother Rufine to Chad for baptism but their father the King had renounced Christianity at this time and slew them both in anger. In remorse King Wulfhere himself later sought out Chad who he found in his cell which was filled with heavenly light. Seeing the King there St. Chad rose hurriedly taking off his vestments and hanging them carelessly on a sunbeam which miraculously held them up (a miracle also attributed to the Celtic St. Bridget). Seeing the King's remorse St. Chad told him to destroy the heathen shrines and build monasteries which the King apparently did.
 

Uprising in Cheshire

 
It cannot be established that either of the brothers, Wulfhade and Rufine, existed or that King Wulfhere lapsed from Christianity, but a great upsurge of Christianity in Mercia (Cheshire) can be detected during St. Chad's ministry. Heathen places were pulled down and monasteries were built with the King giving Chad fifty hides of land to build a monastery in Lincolnshire.

Sadly St. Chad died of the plague (like his brothers Cynebil and Cedd before him) on March 2nd 672 AD, after only two and a half years Mercian ministry during which time he had 'church planted' and converted virtually all of South Lancashire and Cheshire. At least thirty three ancient churches are dedicated to him and he could well be described as THE Celtic Saint of the Mersey. It was said that he knew the time of his death and Bede recorded that: ".... the soul of his brother Cedd descended from heaven accompanied by angels, and carried away his soul to the heavenly kingdom".

Tradition says that King Canute's second wife gave one of Chad's teeth to Winchester but the rest of his bones vanished during the reformation, possibly being buried behind the High Altar at Lichfield.

Ironically four pieces of bone are now displayed in the Roman Catholic Cathedral in Birmingham attributed to St. Chad and recent research has established that they are of seventh century date (600 AD to 700 AD) but could make up three legs !

 

 

 

 
ARTICLE ADAPTED FROM: CELTIC WARRINGTON & OTHER MYSTERIES -
VOLUME TWO: EAST TO SOUTH. MARK OLLY. CHURNET VALLEY BOOKS,
43 Bath Street, Leek, Staffs. (01538) 399033.

 
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