07 February 2019

Holy and Righteous Prince Richard of Wessex

Saint Richard of Wessex

Saint Richard of Wessex, also called Richard the Pilgrim by our Catholic brothers and sisters, is one of those English saints about whom we know comparatively little, but whose holy influence managed to leave a deep and long impression – in this case, in the form of his children by Winna (descendant of Cerdic and sister of Saint Boniface), all of whom would go on to become saints themselves: Saint Wealdburg, Saint Willibald and Saint Wynnebald.

But what we know about Saint Richard personally is rather sketchy; in fact, Richard is unlikely even to be his true name. We know that he was English, that he was high-born, and that he ruled over the West Saxons, likely from somewhere in Devon. He was apparently fairly devout. When his eldest son Willibald fell deathly ill, Richard wrapped him up in a blanket and took him by nightfall out to a rood righted at a crossroads near their West Saxon hamlet. Trusting in God, he lay his son at the foot of the rood, and by his faith in Christ the young boy was healed of his bane. Two years later, by way of thanks for the miracle, Richard entrusted the young boy to the care of Ecgbald abbot of Waltham, who gave him an education in preparation for the monastic life.

When Willibald grew to be a man, he returned to his home with a zeal for mission work on the Continent, and won over his father and brother to accompany him to Rome and Jerusalem. Richard’s daughter Wealdburg was entrusted to the care of the nuns at Wimborne, where she too took the veil. Richard himself renounced his estate and undertook both the monastic cowl and the life of a pilgrim along with his sons, travelling first to Gaul and then to Italy. He spent some time at Rouen, and then later came to the Tuscan town of Lucca. Richard, who by this time was well on in years and whose body was frail from travel, fell to an illness in the summer heat from which he did not recover. He reposed in the Lord in the year 722, in Lucca – where indeed he still has a local cultus of veneration, his relics being housed in the Basilica di San Frediano there.

Again, Richard’s legacy of holiness was mostly carried on through his children – all of whom became celebrated monastics and missionaries on the European Continent. Saint Willibald completed his father’s pilgrimage to Rome, to the Holy Land and to Constantinople – in some accounts the first Englishman ever to set foot in Jerusalem. Later, at the behest of his uncle Saint Boniface, Saint Willibald and his brother took up residence in the German town of Eichstätt, as the head of a Benedictine abbey.

Holy and Righteous Prince Richard, pray to God for us sinners!

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