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The Shrine of St Richard...More Information

The Shrine of St Richard
The Shrine of St Richard

In this increasingly secular age it is difficult to imagine the draw of Pilgrimage and the power of popular Shrines but in the Middle Ages the Church was a controlling influence on life and they had immense importance both to the individual and the Cathedral concerned.

The Shrine of St Richard in Chichester was considered by many to be the third most important in the land after St Thomas in Canterbury and the Virgin Mary at Walsingham so brought pilgrims to both the city and the cathedral.  The gifts they brought to the shrine provided the funds that largely ran the cathedral and enabled refurbishment in those times, as do the gifts of visitors today.

So what did the Shrine look like?  Well it may seem odd to us that there appears to be no picture of any sort of it.  Indeed the only hint we have is the description of what was destroyed in 1538 when Henry VIII ordered the destruction of Shrines and the earlier translation of St Richard’s body to a ‘silver-gilt shrine, encrusted with jewels behind the high altar’.  On the 20th December 1538 it is recorded that taken away and delivered to the Tower of London were ’six coffers, a casket and a little box’ in all containing some 112 images in silver-gilt, relics and jewels.  The casket alone contained 51 jewels set with stones and pearls and the little box 31 rings and other jewels.  So a pilgrim must have been greeted with a fairly awe-inspiring sight, which of course was the intention.

The modern area is a raised platform with a Purbeck marble altar designed by Robert Potter in 1984 flanked by two 16th century tombs to Bishops' Day and Barlow who alternated when the Catholic Queen Mary came to the throne.  Behind the altar is a tapestry screen designed by the German artist Ursula Benker-Schirmer in 1985.  The centre panel was woven in Germany and the two outer panels in West Dean College just north of the city which still has the ability to carry out such commissions.  The tapestry illustrates some of the miracles of St Richard.

Ikon of St Richard
Ikon of St Richard

Since the commissioners’ instructions in 1538 were for the ’razing, defacing and taking away of all images and grinding to dust of all relics’ it was surprising that Bishop Eric Kemp, on a visit to Normandy, should be offered a bone of St Richard’s which was in the reliquary of the Abbey de La Lucerne.  This offer was accepted and the bone is interred under a simple slab beneath the altar with a sanctuary candle burning near it. On the two purbeck marble pillars of the Retroquire are a statue of St Richard (1938) and an ikon by Sergei Fyodorov and dated 1973.

Recent additions are candlesticks and crosses, together with kneelers and devotional candle stands designed in 2011 by Geoffrey Clarke’s son in his father’s favourite material of cast aluminium in memory of Bishop Kemp. The Retroquire also contains two of the cathedral’s valued 20th century works of art in the Chagall window and the statue of Christ in Judgement by Philip Jackson, so history repeats itself in the shrine area with treasures for modern pilgrims to see and prayers are given and candles lit exactly as medieval pilgrims did in the past.

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