In trying to find out more about the ferry that may have taken pilgrims across the water to the Cathedral, I came across an interesting description of what they may have found there on their arrival.
A document described as an ‘indenture chirograph’ (1), two feet five inches long and eleven inches wide, lists the goods found in the sacristy in 1345. A transcript of the original Latin is included in the ‘Collections for a History of Staffordshire 1886, Part II, Vol VI’, edited by the William Salt Society. Thankfully, there is also a translation alongside, so that I don’t have to fumble my way through using google translate! (2)
The first part of the inventory lists the various relics owned by the Cathedral, including of course those of Saint Chad. Chad died in 672AD and around 700AD his bones were moved to a new church, on or near to the site of the present Cathedral. It’s thought that the Lichfield Angel, discovered in 2003 whilst work was being carried out on the nave, may have been part of the original shrine, and that it may have been destroyed by Vikings. By the time the inventory was made in 1345, the holy bones seem to have been kept in several different places within the Cathedral. Chad’s skull was kept in the thirteenth century Saint Chad’s Head Chapel ‘in a painted wooden case’. The Cathedral website describes how initially pilgrims would ascend a staircase in the wall, walk around the head, and then exit down a second stairway which still exists today.
Eventually, due to the volume of traffic, one of the staircases was closed and the relic was shown to pilgrims from the balcony outside the chapel. There is also mention of an arm of Blessed Chad, and other bones in a portable shrine, as well as the great shrine of St Chad. The latter was described as being decorated with statues and adorned with precious gifts and jewels and stood in the Lady Chapel of the Cathedral until the reformation. It’s believed that some of the Saint’s bones are now kept in the Roman Catholic Cathedral of St Chad’s in Birmingham, enshrined on 21 June 1841, the day that the Cathedral was consecrated. (3)
It wasn’t just the relics of Saint Chad that were owned by the Cathedral. Other items recorded in 1345 include:
Some of Mount Calvary and Golgotha, a piece of the rock standing upon which Jesus wept bitterly and wept over Jerusalem, some of the bones of the Eleven Thousand Virgins, part of the finger and cowl of St William, some of the bread of St Godric and some of the wood of the cross of St Peter
There were also said to be some of St Lawrence’s bones, part of his tomb and a piece of the gridiron he was executed on. (4) Interestingly, it’s said that at number 23, The Close, different coloured bricks have been used on the south wall to depict this this symbol of St Lawrence’s martyrdom. Since I read about this, I have a look every time I walk past, but as of yet, have not managed to spot it!
Saint Chad’s skull may be long gone but the pilgrims still come, and on certain occasions have their feet washed at the pedilavium, a medieval feature thought to be unique to Lichfield. There are also plenty of other heads to be found at Lichfield Cathedral. Some are scarred and defaced, whilst others have been restored. They are a reminder of the medieval craftsmen who created the church, those who tried to destroy it and those whose skills and labour restored Lichfield Cathedral to the mirabilis edificii that it is today (ok, I admit I used google translate for that one!).
1) I believe this refers to a document that would have been written in duplicate on the same piece of parchment, and then divided into two with a serrated edge, so that when both parts were brought back together and compared, you could be sure that each was genuine and not a forgery.
(2) A footnote says ‘This transcript and translation were originally undertaken for ‘The Journal of the Derbyshire Archaeological Society’, and are now reprinted after careful revision and correction. It was the joint work of W H St John Hope, FSA and the compiler of this catalogue’. Thanks very much folks!
(3) The relics of St Chad were apparently smuggled out of Lichfield after the reformation and eventually ended up in Birmingham, a journey of thirty miles that took 300 years! You can read more about that journey here. I don’t think anyone knows what happened to the other relics.
(4) In a nutshell the legend of St Lawrence is that he was a Deacon of Rome, and when asked by the Prefect of Rome to assemble the treasures of the church for him, he brought him the poor and suffering, stating it was they who were the true treasures of the church. The legend says he was executed by being roasted over a gridiron (but some say he was most likely beheaded).
Collections for a History of Staffordshire 1886, Part II, Vol VI’, edited by the William Salt Society
Lichfield Cathedral Website – http://www.lichfield-cathedral.org/History/the-gothic-cathedral.html
Lichfield: The cathedral close’, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield (1990), pp. 57-67