Archbishop of Canterbury

Last updated

Archbishop of Canterbury
Official portrait of The Lord Archbishop of Canterbury crop 2.jpg
Arms ArchbishopOfCanterbury.svg
Arms of the Diocese of Canterbury: Azure, an episcopal staff in pale or surmounted by a pall proper edged and fringed of the second charged with four crosses pattée fitchée sable
Justin Welby
since 4 February 2013
Style The Most Reverend and Right Honourable (otherwise His Grace)
Ecclesiastical province Canterbury
First holder Augustine of Canterbury
Established597 (597)
Diocese Canterbury
Cathedral Canterbury Cathedral
Website OOjs UI icon edit-ltr-progressive.svg

The archbishop of Canterbury is the senior bishop and a principal leader of the Church of England, the ceremonial head of the worldwide Anglican Communion and the diocesan bishop of the Diocese of Canterbury. The current archbishop is Justin Welby, who was enthroned at Canterbury Cathedral on 21 March 2013. Welby is the 105th in a line which goes back more than 1400 years to Augustine of Canterbury, the "Apostle to the English", sent from Rome in the year 597. Welby succeeded Rowan Williams. [1]


From the time of Augustine until the 16th century, the archbishops of Canterbury were in full communion with the See of Rome and usually received the pallium from the pope. During the English Reformation, the Church of England broke away from the authority of the pope. Thomas Cranmer became the first holder of the office following the English Reformation in 1533, while Reginald Pole was the last Roman Catholic in the position, serving from 1556 to 1558 during the Counter-Reformation. In the Middle Ages there was considerable variation in the methods of nomination of the archbishop of Canterbury and other bishops. At various times the choice was made by the monks of the Cathedral Priory (before the Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII), [2] the pope, or the king of England. Since the English Reformation, the Church of England has been more explicitly a state church and the choice is legally that of the Crown; today it is made by the reigning monarch on the advice of the prime minister, who in turn receives a shortlist of two names from an ad hoc committee called the Crown Nominations Commission.

Present roles and status

Today the archbishop fills four main roles: [3]

  1. He is the diocesan bishop of the Diocese of Canterbury, which covers the eastern parts of the County of Kent. Founded in 597, it is the oldest see in the English church.
  2. He is the metropolitan archbishop of the Province of Canterbury, which covers the southern two-thirds of England.
  3. He is the senior primate and chief religious figure of the Church of England (the British sovereign is the supreme governor of the church). Along with his colleague the Archbishop of York he chairs the General Synod and sits on or chairs many of the church's important boards and committees; power in the church is not highly centralised, however, so the two archbishops can often lead only through persuasion. The Archbishop of Canterbury plays a central part in national ceremonies such as coronations; due to his high public profile, his opinions are often in demand by the news media.
  4. As spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion, the archbishop, although without legal authority outside England, is recognised by convention as primus inter pares ("first among equals") of all Anglican primates worldwide. Since 1867 he has convened more or less decennial meetings of worldwide Anglican bishops, the Lambeth Conferences.

In the last two of these functions, he has an important ecumenical and interfaith role, speaking on behalf of Anglicans in England and worldwide.

The archbishop's main residence is Lambeth Palace in the London Borough of Lambeth. He also has lodgings in the Old Palace, Canterbury, located beside Canterbury Cathedral, where the Chair of St Augustine sits.

As holder of one of the "five great sees" (the others being York, London, Durham and Winchester), the archbishop of Canterbury is ex officio one of the Lords Spiritual of the House of Lords. He is one of the highest-ranking men in England and the highest ranking non-royal in the United Kingdom's order of precedence.

Since Henry VIII broke with Rome, the archbishops of Canterbury have been selected by the English (British since the Act of Union in 1707) monarch. Since the 20th century, the appointment of Archbishops of Canterbury conventionally alternates between Anglo-Catholics and Evangelicals. [4]

The current archbishop, Justin Welby, the 105th archbishop of Canterbury, was enthroned at Canterbury Cathedral on 4 February 2013. As archbishop he signs himself as + Justin Cantuar. His predecessor, Rowan Williams, 104th Archbishop of Canterbury, was enthroned at Canterbury Cathedral on 27 February 2003. Immediately prior to his appointment to Canterbury, Williams was the bishop of Monmouth and archbishop of Wales. On 18 March 2012, Williams announced he would be stepping down as archbishop of Canterbury at the end of 2012 to become master of Magdalene College, Cambridge. [5]

Additional roles

In addition to his office, the archbishop also holds a number of other positions; for example, he is joint president of the Council of Christians and Jews in the United Kingdom. Some positions he formally holds ex officio and others virtually so (the incumbent of the day, although appointed personally, is appointed because of his office). Amongst these are: [6]

Ecumenical and interfaith

The archbishop is also a president of Churches Together in England (an ecumenical organisation). [9] Geoffrey Fisher, 99th Archbishop of Canterbury, was the first since 1397 to visit Rome, where he held private talks with Pope John XXIII in 1960. In 2005, Rowan Williams became the first archbishop of Canterbury to attend a papal funeral since the Reformation. He also attended the inauguration of Pope Benedict XVI. The 101st archbishop, Donald Coggan, was the first to attend a papal inauguration, that of Pope John Paul II in 1978. [10]

Since 2002, the archbishop has co-sponsored the Alexandria Middle East Peace process with the Grand Mufti of Egypt. In July 2008, the archbishop attended a conference of Christians, Jews and Muslims convened by the king of Saudi Arabia at which the notion of the "clash of civilizations" was rejected. Delegates agreed "on international guidelines for dialogue among the followers of religions and cultures." [11] Delegates said that "the deepening of moral values and ethical principles, which are common denominators among such followers, would help strengthen stability and achieve prosperity for all humans." [12]


Arms of the see of Canterbury. Nearly 500 years after the Reformation, the arms still depict the pallium, a symbol of the authority of the Pope and metropolitan archbishops. Angl-Canterbury-Arms.svg
Arms of the see of Canterbury. Nearly 500 years after the Reformation, the arms still depict the pallium, a symbol of the authority of the Pope and metropolitan archbishops.

It has been suggested that the Roman province of Britannia had four archbishops, seated at Londinium (London), Eboracum (York), Lindum Colonia (Lincoln) and Corinium Dobunnorum (Cirencester). [13] However, in the 5th and 6th centuries Britannia began to be overrun by pagan, Germanic peoples who came to be known collectively as the Anglo-Saxons. Of the kingdoms they created, Kent arguably had the closest links with European politics, trade and culture, because it was conveniently situated for communication with continental Europe. In the late 6th century, King Æthelberht of Kent married a Christian Frankish princess named Bertha, possibly before becoming king, and certainly a number of years before the arrival of the first Christian mission to England. [14] He permitted the preaching of Christianity. [15]

The first archbishop of Canterbury was Saint Augustine of Canterbury (not to be confused with Saint Augustine of Hippo), who arrived in Kent in 597 AD, having been sent by Pope Gregory I on a mission to the English. He was accepted by King Æthelbert, on his conversion to Christianity, about the year 598. It seems that Pope Gregory, ignorant of recent developments in the former Roman province, including the spread of the Pelagian heresy, had intended the new archiepiscopal sees for England to be established in London and York. [16] In the event, Canterbury was chosen instead of London, owing to political circumstances. [17] Since then the Archbishops of Canterbury have been referred to as occupying the Chair of St. Augustine.

A gospel book believed to be directly associated with St Augustine's mission survives in the Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge University, England. Catalogued as Cambridge Manuscript 286, it has been positively dated to 6th-century Italy and this bound book, the St Augustine Gospels, is still used during the swearing-in ceremony of new archbishops of Canterbury.

Before the break with papal authority in the 16th century, the Church of England was an integral part of the Western European church. Since the break the Church of England, an established national church, still considers itself part of the broader Western Catholic tradition (although this is not accepted by the Roman Catholic Church which regards Anglicanism as schismatic [18] and does not accept Anglican holy orders as valid) as well as being the "mother church" of the worldwide Anglican Communion.

The Report of the Commissioners appointed by his Majesty to inquire into the Ecclesiastical Revenues of England and Wales (1835) noted the net annual revenue for the Canterbury see was £19,182. [19]

Province and Diocese of Canterbury

View of Canterbury Cathedral from the north west c. 1890-1900 CanterburyCathedral.png
View of Canterbury Cathedral from the north west c.1890–1900

The archbishop of Canterbury exercises metropolitical (or supervisory) jurisdiction over the Province of Canterbury, which encompasses thirty of the forty-two dioceses of the Church of England, with the rest falling within the Province of York. The four Welsh dioceses were also under the Province of Canterbury until 1920 when they were transferred from the established church of England to the disestablished Church in Wales.

The archbishop of Canterbury has a ceremonial provincial curia, or court, consisting of some of the senior bishops of his province. [20] The bishop of London—the most senior cleric of the church with the exception of the two archbishops—serves as Canterbury's provincial dean, the bishop of Winchester as chancellor, the bishop of Lincoln as vice-chancellor, the bishop of Salisbury as precentor, the bishop of Worcester as chaplain and the bishop of Rochester as cross-bearer.

Along with primacy over the archbishop of York, the archbishop of Canterbury also has a precedence of honour over the other bishops of the Anglican Communion. He is recognised as primus inter pares, or first amongst equals. He does not, however, exercise any direct authority in the provinces outside England, except in certain minor roles dictated by Canon in those provinces (for example, he is the judge in the event of an ecclesiastical prosecution against the archbishop of Wales). He does hold metropolitical authority over several extra-provincial Anglican churches, and he serves as ex officio bishop of the Falkland Islands.

At present the archbishop has four suffragan bishops:

Styles and privileges

The archbishop of Canterbury and the archbishop of York are both styled as "The Most Reverend"; retired archbishops are styled as "The Right Reverend". Archbishops are, by convention, appointed to the Privy Council and may, therefore, also use the style of "The Right Honourable" for life (unless they are later removed from the council). In formal documents, the archbishop of Canterbury is referred to as "The Most Reverend Forenames, by Divine Providence Lord Archbishop of Canterbury, Primate of All England and Metropolitan". In debates in the House of Lords, the archbishop is referred to as "The Most Reverend Primate, the Archbishop of Canterbury". "The Right Honourable" is not used in either instance. He may also be formally addressed as "Your Grace"—or, more often these days, simply as "Archbishop", or "Father".

The surname of the archbishop of Canterbury is not always used in formal documents; often only the first name and see are mentioned. The archbishop is legally entitled to sign his name as "Cantuar" (from the Latin for Canterbury). The right to use a title as a legal signature is only permitted to bishops, peers of the Realm and peers by courtesy.[ citation needed ] The current archbishop of Canterbury usually signs as "+Justin Cantuar:".

In the English and Welsh order of precedence, the archbishop of Canterbury is ranked above all individuals in the realm, with the exception of the sovereign and members of the royal family. [23] Immediately below him is the lord chancellor and then the archbishop of York.

Lambeth degrees

The archbishop of Canterbury awards academic degrees, commonly called "Lambeth degrees".


The Archbishop of Canterbury's official London residence is Lambeth Palace, photographed looking east across the River Thames Lambeth Palace London 240404.jpg
The Archbishop of Canterbury's official London residence is Lambeth Palace, photographed looking east across the River Thames

The archbishop of Canterbury's official residence in London is Lambeth Palace. He also has a residence, named The Old Palace, next to Canterbury Cathedral on the site of the medieval Archbishop's Palace. The archbishops had palaces on the periphery of London and on the route between London and Canterbury.

Former palaces of the archbishops include


Since 1900, the following have served as archbishop of Canterbury: [24]

Archbishops who became peers

Upon retirement from the Church, the former archbishop of Canterbury is traditionally offered a life peerage in the House of Lords. [25]

From 1660 to 1902, all the archbishops of Canterbury died in office.

Randall Davidson was the first to voluntarily resign his office in 1928, two years before his death. All his successors (except William Temple) have also resigned their office before death, and subsequently received a peerage.

Randall Davidson Baron Davidson of Lambeth in 1928Extinct in 1930
Cosmo Gordon Lang Baron Lang of Lambeth in 1942Extinct in 1945
Geoffrey Fisher Baron Fisher of Lambeth for life in 1961Extinct in 1972
Michael Ramsey Baron Ramsey of Canterbury for life in 1974Extinct in 1988
Donald Coggan Baron Coggan for life in 1980Extinct in 2000
Robert Runcie Baron Runcie for life in 1991Extinct in 2000
George Carey Baron Carey of Clifton for life in 2002Extant
Rowan Williams Baron Williams of Oystermouth for life in 2013Retired from the House in 2020; [26] extant

See also

Related Research Articles

Anglican Communion International association of churches

The Anglican Communion is the third largest Christian communion after the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. Founded in 1867 in London, the communion has more than 85 million members within the Church of England and other autocephalous national and regional churches in full communion. The traditional origins of Anglican doctrine are summarised in the Thirty-nine Articles (1571). The Archbishop of Canterbury in England acts as a focus of unity, recognised as primus inter pares, but does not exercise authority in Anglican provinces outside of the Church of England. Most, but not all, member churches of the communion are the historic national or regional Anglican churches.

Lambeth Conference Assembly of Anglican bishops

The Lambeth Conference is a decennial assembly of bishops of the Anglican Communion convened by the Archbishop of Canterbury. The first such conference took place at Lambeth in 1867.

Donald Coggan Archbishop of Canterbury; and of York; Bishop of Bradford (1909–2000)

Frederick Donald Coggan, Baron Coggan, was the 101st Archbishop of Canterbury from 1974 to 1980. As Archbishop of Canterbury, he "revived morale within the Church of England, opened a dialogue with Rome and supported women's ordination". He had previously been successively the Bishop of Bradford and the Archbishop of York.

Province of Canterbury Ecclesiastical province of the Church of England

The Province of Canterbury, or less formally the Southern Province, is one of two ecclesiastical provinces which constitute the Church of England. The other is the Province of York.

Diocese of Canterbury Diocese of the Church of England

The Diocese of Canterbury is a Church of England diocese covering eastern Kent which was founded by St. Augustine of Canterbury in 597. The diocese is centred on Canterbury Cathedral and is the oldest see of the Church of England.

A provincial episcopal visitor (PEV), popularly known as a flying bishop, is a Church of England bishop assigned to minister to many of the clergy, laity and parishes who on grounds of theological conviction, "are unable to receive the ministry of women bishops or priests". The system by which such bishops oversee certain churches is referred to as alternative episcopal oversight (AEO).

History of the Anglican Communion

The history of the Anglican Communion may be attributed mainly to the worldwide spread of British culture associated with the British Empire. Among other things the Church of England spread around the world and, gradually developing autonomy in each region of the world, became the communion as it exists today.

Archbishop of York Senior bishop in the Church of England

The Archbishop of York is a senior bishop in the Church of England, second only to the archbishop of Canterbury. The archbishop is the diocesan bishop of the Diocese of York and the metropolitan bishop of the Province of York, which covers the northern regions of England as well as the Isle of Man. The archbishop of York is an ex officio member of the House of Lords and is styled Primate of England; the archbishop of Canterbury is the Primate of All England.

Anglican ministry Leadership and agency of Christian service in the Anglican Communion

The Anglican ministry is both the leadership and agency of Christian service in the Anglican Communion. "Ministry" commonly refers to the office of ordained clergy: the threefold order of bishops, priests and deacons. More accurately, Anglican ministry includes many laypeople who devote themselves to the ministry of the church, either individually or in lower/assisting offices such as lector, acolyte, sub-deacon, Eucharistic minister, cantor, musicians, parish secretary or assistant, warden, vestry member, etc. Ultimately, all baptized members of the church are considered to partake in the ministry of the Body of Christ.

Bishop of Dover

The Bishop of Dover is an episcopal title used by a suffragan bishop of the Church of England Diocese of Canterbury, England. The title takes its name after the town of Dover in Kent. The Bishop of Dover holds the additional title of "Bishop in Canterbury" and is empowered to act almost as if the Bishop of Dover were the diocesan bishop of Canterbury, since the actual diocesan bishop is based at Lambeth Palace in London, and thus is frequently away from the diocese, fulfilling national and international duties. Among other things, this gives the Bishop of Dover an ex officio seat in the church's General Synod. There is another suffragan, the Bishop of Maidstone, who has different responsibilities.

Chair of St Augustine

The Chair of St Augustine or Cathedra Augustini (Latin) is the ceremonial enthronement cathedra chair of the Archbishop of Canterbury in Canterbury Cathedral, Kent.

David Moxon New Zealand Anglican bishop

Sir David John Moxon is a New Zealand Anglican bishop. He was until June 2017, the Archbishop of Canterbury's Representative to the Holy See and Director of the Anglican Centre in Rome. He was previously the Bishop of Waikato in the Diocese of Waikato and Taranaki, the archbishop of the New Zealand dioceses and one of the three primates of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia. In the 2014 New Year Honours, he was appointed a Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to the Anglican Church.

Paul Butler (bishop)

Paul Roger Butler is the bishop of Durham in the Diocese of Durham. His election was confirmed on 20 January 2014 and he was installed and enthroned in Durham Cathedral on 22 February 2014. On 12 September 2013 it was announced that he had been appointed as bishop-designate of Durham He was previously bishop of Southwell and Nottingham. He was installed at Southwell Minster on 27 February 2010. He served as the suffragan bishop of Southampton in the Diocese of Winchester from 2004 until 2010.

Nigel Stock (bishop) British Anglican bishop

William Nigel Stock is a British Anglican bishop. From 2013 until his 2017 retirement, he was Bishop at Lambeth, Bishop to the Forces and Bishop for the Falkland Islands; from 2007 to 2013 he was Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich.

Tim Thornton (bishop) British Anglican bishop (born 1957)

Timothy Martin Thornton is a retired British Anglican bishop. His final post was as Bishop at Lambeth, Bishop to the Forces, and Bishop for the Falkland Islands (2017–2021). He was previously the area Bishop of Sherborne from 2001 to 2008, the diocesan Bishop of Truro (2009–2017), and a Member of the House of Lords (2013–2017).

Josiah Idowu-Fearon Anglican bishop in Nigeria

Josiah Atkins Idowu-Fearon is a Nigerian Anglican bishop. Since 2015, he has been Secretary General of the Anglican Consultative Council. He was previously the Bishop of Kaduna diocese and the Archbishop of the Province of Kaduna in the Church of Nigeria.

Tim Dakin

Timothy John Dakin is a retired Anglican bishop. He was the general secretary of the Church Mission Society (CMS) and the South American Missionary Society (SAMS) prior to his consecration. He was appointed as Bishop of Winchester in 2011, and, as such became an ex officio member of the House of Lords. From 2013 he served as the Bishop for Higher and Further Education.

The Cross of St Augustine is an award of merit in the gift of the Archbishop of Canterbury. It is awarded to members of the Anglican Communion who have made significant contributions to the life of the worldwide Communion, or to a particular autonomous church within Anglicanism. It is also awarded to members of other traditions who have made a conspicuous contribution to ecumenism. It is the second highest international award for service within Anglicanism.


  1. "Announcement of the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury". Archbishop of Canterbury Website. 9 November 2012. Retrieved 14 November 2012.
  2. See Wikipediacanons of Canterbury Cathedral
  3. Archbishop's Roles and Responsibilities Archived 14 February 2008 at the Wayback Machine , Archbishop of Canterbury website. Retrieved 8 February 2008.
  4. The Archbishop of Canterbury Archived 22 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine , website of the Archbishop of York. Retrieved 31 March 2009.
  5. "Dr Williams resigns".
  6. "Register of Lords' interests". House of Lords. Archived from the original on 7 August 2007. Retrieved 15 August 2007.
  7. "Archbishop installed as first Chancellor". Canterbury Christ Church University. 12 December 2005. Archived from the original on 28 September 2007. Retrieved 7 August 2008.
  8. "Justin Welby becomes patron of mental health charity". Premier. Christian News. 14 September 2021. Retrieved 15 October 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  9. "The Presidents of Churches Together in England". Churches Together in England. Archived from the original on 26 February 2014. Retrieved 23 February 2014.
  10. Hickman, Baden (19 May 2000). "Lord Coggan of Canterbury". The Guardian. Retrieved 23 February 2014.
  11. "Madrid Interfaith Dialogue Conference: Beginning of a Process". Saudi-US Relations Information Service. Archived from the original on 15 May 2010. Retrieved 6 May 2014.
  12. Niles, D. Preman (1989). Resisting the threats to life: covenanting for justice, peace, and the integrity of creation. Geneva: WCC Publications. ISBN   9782825409640.
  13. Wacher, J., The Towns of Roman Britain, Batsford, 1974, especially pp. 84–6.
  14. Catholic Encyclopedia: Bertha.
  15. Bede, Ecclesiastical History , i, 25.
  16. Bede, Ecclesiastical History, i, 29.
  17. Brooks, N., The Early History of the Church of Canterbury, Leicester University Press, 1984, pp. 3–14.
  18. Cavanaugh, Stephen E. (1 January 2011). Anglicans and the Roman Catholic Church: Reflections on Recent Developments. Ignatius Press. ISBN   978-1-58617-499-6.
  19. The National Enclopaedia of Useful Knowledge, Vol.III, Charles Knight, London, 1847, p.362
  20. "Order of Service from the Enthronement of the 104th Archbishop in 2003" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2 February 2007.
  21. "Articles".
  22. "Canterbury Diocese – Synod News". Archived from the original on 15 June 2011.
  23. Whitaker's Almanack , 2008, p43 – (Precedence, England and Wales)
  24. Johnson, Ben. "Archbishops of Canturbury". Historic UK. Retrieved 31 January 2020.
  25. "How members are appointed". UK Parliament.
  26. "Retirements of Members - Hansard - UK Parliament".