St Chad

Find out why the St Chad Gospels and the Lichfield Angel belong to the same world as the Staffordshire Hoard…

Experts believe the Staffordshire Hoard was most probably buried some time around 650-675 AD. If they are right, then it dates from around the time that St Chad arrived in Lichfield. St Chad was bishop of Mercia, based in Lichfield between 669 and 672 AD.

St Chad was the first Bishop of Mercia to make Lichfield the centre of his diocese. It was largely through his work that Mercia became a Christian kingdom. Considering he was in Lichfield for such a short time, his impact is amazing. Written sources from the period show that he impressed everyone with his humility, gentleness and courage.

His impact was so great that when he died in 672, people began to flock to his burial place and Lichfield quickly became a pilgrimage centre. It was as a result of this pilgrim traffic that a Cathedral was built to accommodate his shrine.

That Saxon cathedral was dedicated on New Year’s Eve, 700. In due course it was replaced by a Norman cathedral, built around 1085. The Norman building was then replaced, from around 1185, by the present, Gothic building – much of which has been standing for 800 years.

The two great artefacts in Lichfield Cathedral’s Chapter House, the St Chad Gospels and the Lichfield Angel, were probably created to adorn St Chad’s first shrine in the Saxon cathedral.

The St Chad Gospels are older than the Book of Kells, and only a little younger than the Lindisfarne Gospels. They date from about the year 730 AD. They contain the Gospels of Matthew and Mark in full, and the beginning of the Gospel of Luke. There are 236 pages, including eight illuminated pages.

The Lichfield Angel dates from around 800. It was discovered in 2003, during excavations in the Nave. It had been ritually buried face down, suspended on pillars of rubble in a dry void – which is why the carved detail and even painted pigments have survived so well. It almost certainly formed part of the tomb-chest of St Chad’s shrine. It depicts the Archangel Gabriel – and we think a figure of the Virgin Mary would have made up the right hand side of the panel which is now missing. We believe the scene would have been an illustration of ‘the Annunciation’, when it was announced to Mary that she would be the mother of Jesus.

So, the St Chad Gospels and the Lichfield Angel belong to the same world as the Staffordshire Hoard. Like items of the Hoard, the Gospels and the Angel are works of exquisite craftsmanship. They show what an important cultural centre Mercia was in the 7th to 9th centuries.

And while there is absolutely no evidence of any direct connection between St Chad and the Staffordshire Hoard, the ecclesiastic items in the hoard, like the crosses and the inscription, do show the kind of treasures which would have been used by St Chad and his colleagues in that first Christian community in Lichfield.