Today is a good day to celebrate Chichester in Sussex, because it is the saint’s day of Richard of Chichester (patron saint of Sussex), and because of this fact, today has been designated as Sussex Day: https://www.bookofdaystales.com/sussex-day/ I spent my early childhood in Eastbourne on the south coast of Sussex, and, even though I do not in any sense think of Eastbourne as where I “come from” (i.e. my “home”), it still resonates with me. It was my mother’s and her parents’ home, and I still have old school friends living there whom I visit once in a while. Richard’s original feast day was 3rd April (his date of death), but, because it often got mixed up with Easter was moved to today, the date of the translation of his relics to a shrine in Chichester cathedral, that for many years was an important pilgrimage destination. We can turn the tables, and switch Sussex day back into a celebration of Richard and of Chichester. Before I get too detailed, let’s begin with the name – Chichester. If you are from the region you will pronounce it, not how it looks, but something like “Chittistah.” That pronunciation will mark you as a native of Sussex. Even if you only “come from” Sussex in a vague way – as I do – you’ll use the local pronunciation.
Richard was born in Burford, near the town of Wyche (modern Droitwich, Worcestershire) and was an orphan member of a landed family. He attended the university of Oxford, and taught there before going to Paris and then Bologna, where he distinguished himself in canon law. On returning to England in 1235, Richard was elected Oxford’s chancellor.
Richard’s former tutor, Edmund of Abingdon, had become archbishop of Canterbury, and Richard shared Edmund’s ideals of clerical reform and supported papal rights even against the king (a sore spot in the history of English monarchs down to Henry VIII). In 1237, Archbishop Edmund appointed Richard chancellor of the diocese of Canterbury. Richard joined the archbishop during his exile at Pontigny, and was with him when the archbishop died circa 1240. Richard then decided to become a priest and studied theology for two years with the Dominicans at Orléans Upon returning to England, Richard became the parish priest at Charing and at Deal, but soon was reappointed chancellor of Canterbury by the new archbishop Boniface of Savoy.
In 1244 Richard was elected bishop of Chichester. Henry III and a segment of the chapter refused to accept him, the king favoring the candidature of Robert Passelewe (d. 1252). Archbishop Boniface refused to confirm Passelew, so both sides appealed to the pope. The king confiscated the see’s properties and revenues, but Innocent IV confirmed Richard’s election and consecrated him bishop at Lyons in March 1245. Richard then returned to Chichester, but the king refused to restore the see’s properties for two years, and then did so only after being threatened with excommunication. Meanwhile, Henry III forbade anyone to house or feed Richard. At first, Richard lived at Tarring in the house of his friend Simon, the parish priest of Tarring, visited his entire diocese on foot, and cultivated figs in his spare time.
Richard’s private life displayed rigid frugality and temperance. Richard was an ascetic who wore a hair-shirt and refused to eat off silver. He kept his diet simple and rigorously excluded animal flesh; having been a vegetarian since his days at Oxford. Richard was merciless to usurers, corrupt clergy, and priests who mumbled the Mass. He was also a stickler for clerical privilege. Richard’s episcopate was marked by the favor which he showed to the Dominicans, a house of this order at Orléans having sheltered him during his stay in France, and by his earnestness in preaching a crusade. After dedicating St Edmund’s Chapel at Dover, he died aged 56 at the Maison Dieu in Dover at midnight on 3rd April 1253, where the Pope had ordered him to preach a crusade. His internal organs were removed and placed in that chapel’s altar. Richard’s body was then carried to Chichester and buried, according to his wishes, in the chapel on the north side of the nave, dedicated to his patron St. Edmund. His remains were translated to a new shrine on this date in 1276.
The area around Chichester is believed to have played significant part during the Roman Invasion of 43 C.E., as confirmed by evidence of military storage structures in the area of the nearby Fishbourne Roman Palace. The city center stands on the foundations of the Romano-British city of Noviomagus Reginorum, capital of the Civitas Reginorum. The Roman road of Stane Street, connecting the city with London, started at the east gate, while the Chichester to Silchester road started from the north gate. The plan of the city is inherited from the Romans: the North, South, East and West shopping streets radiate from the central market cross dating from medieval times. The original Roman city wall was over 6½ feet thick with a steep ditch (which was later used to divert the River Lavant). It survived for over one and a half thousand years but was then replaced by a thinner Georgian wall. The city was also home to some Roman baths, found down Tower Street when preparation for a new car park was under way. A museum, The Novium, preserving the baths was opened on 8 July 2012. An amphitheater was built outside the city walls, close to the East Gate, in around 80 C.E. The area is now a park, but the site of the amphitheater is discernible as a gentle bank approximately oval in shape.
According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Chichester was captured towards the close of the 5th century, by Ælle, king of the south Saxons, who led an invading army against the Britons. Supposedly he renamed the town after his son, Cissa (that is, Cissa’s ceaster (fort) ). This is not at all certain, however. It was the chief city of the kingdom of Sussex. The cathedral for the South Saxons was originally founded in 681 at Selsey, but the seat of the bishopric was moved to Chichester in Norman times in 1075. Chichester was one of the burhs (fortified towns) established by Alfred the Great, probably in 878-9, making use of the remaining Roman walls. According to the Burghal Hidage, a list written in the early 10th century, it was one of the biggest of Alfred’s burhs, supported by 1500 hides, units of land required to supply one soldier each for the garrison in time of emergency. The system was supported by a communication network based on hilltop beacons to provide early warning. It has been suggested that one such link ran from Chichester to London.
When the Domesday Book was compiled, Cicestre (Chichester) consisted of 300 dwellings which held a population of 1,500 people. There was a mill named Kings Mill that would have been rented to local slaves and villeins. After the Battle of Hastings the township of Chichester was handed to Roger de Mongomerie, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury, for courageous efforts in the battle, but it was forfeited in 1104 by the 3rd Earl. Shortly after 1066 Chichester Castle was built by Roger de Mongomerie to consolidate Norman power. In around 1143, Richard’s time, the title Earl of Arundel (also known as the Earl of Sussex until that title fell out of use) was created and became the dominant local landowner.
If you want to honor Richard of Chichester on this day you could do something with fresh figs, since he is known to have cultivated fig trees. But if you know anything at all about Chichester, you’ll know it is the home of Shippam’s pastes. If you have a drop of English blood in you – and are of a certain age – you will remember eating Shippam’s paste on toast at tea time. The company was founded in Chichester in 1750 by Shipston Shippam, and remained an independent family firm until the 1970s. Although now part of Prince’s, Shippam’s Pastes are still produced in Chichester and the former factory’s distinctive façade and famous clock and wishbone can still be seen in East Street.