Bishop of Durham

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Bishop of Durham
Coat of arms
acting: the Bishop of Jarrow
Ecclesiastical province York
First holder Aidan
Aldhun (first bishop of Durham)
Established635 (at Lindisfarne)
995 (translation to Durham)
Diocese Durham
Cathedral Durham Cathedral (since 995)
St Mary and St Cuthbert, Chester-le-Street (882–995)
Lindisfarne (635–875)

The bishop of Durham is responsible for the diocese of Durham in the province of York. The diocese is one of the oldest in England and its bishop is a member of the House of Lords. Paul Butler was the most recent bishop of Durham until his retirement in February 2024.


The bishop is officially styled The Right Reverend (First Name), by Divine Providence Lord Bishop of Durham, but this full title is rarely used. In signatures, the bishop's family name is replaced by Dunelm, from the Latin name for Durham (the Latinised form of Old English Dunholm). In the past, bishops of Durham varied their signatures between Dunelm and the French Duresm. Prior to 1836 the bishop had significant temporal powers over the liberty of Durham and later the county palatine of Durham. The bishop, with the bishop of Bath and Wells, escorts the sovereign at the coronation.

Durham Castle was a residence of the bishops from its construction in the 11th century until 1832, when it was given to the University of Durham to use as a college. Auckland Castle then became the bishops' main residence until July 2012, when it was sold to the Auckland Castle Trust. The bishop continues to have offices there. [1] [2]


The bishop of Lindisfarne is an episcopal title which takes its name after the tidal island of Lindisfarne, which lies just off the northeast coast of Northumberland, England. The title was first used by the Anglo-Saxons between the 7th and 10th centuries. In the reign of Æthelstan (924–939) Wigred, thought by Simon Keynes to have been Bishop of Chester-le-Street, attested royal charters. [3] According to George Molyneaux, the church of St Cuthbert "was in all probability the greatest landholder between the Tees and the Tyne". [4] Traditionally, following the chronology of the twelfth-century writer Symeon of Durham, historians have believed that the body of St Cuthbert and centre of the diocese lay at Chester-le-Street from the ninth century until 995, but recent research has suggested that the bishops may have been based at Norham on the River Tweed until after 1013. [5] [6] The title of "bishop of Lindisfarne" is now used by the Roman Catholic Church for a titular see.

The Anglo-Saxon dioceses before 925 England diocese map pre-925.svg
The Anglo-Saxon dioceses before 925

The Anglo-Saxon bishops of Lindisfarne were ordinaries of several early medieval episcopal sees (and dioceses) in Northumbria and pre-Conquest England. The first such see was founded at Lindisfarne in 635 by Saint Aidan. [7]

From the 7th century onwards, in addition to his spiritual authority, the bishops of Lindisfarne, and then Durham, also acted as the civil ruler of the region as the lord of the liberty of Durham, with local authority equal to that of the king. The bishop appointed all local officials and maintained his own court. After the Norman Conquest, this power was retained by the bishop and was eventually recognised with the designation of the region as the County Palatine of Durham. As holder of this office, the bishop was both the earl of the county and bishop of the diocese. Though the term 'prince-bishop' has become a common way of describing the role of the bishop prior to 1836, the term was unknown in Medieval England. [8]

A UNESCO site describes the role of the bishops as a "buffer state between England and Scotland": [9]

From 1075, the bishop of Durham became a prince-bishop, with the right to raise an army, mint his own coins, and levy taxes. As long as he remained loyal to the king of England, he could govern as a virtually autonomous ruler, reaping the revenue from his territory, but also remaining mindful of his role of protecting England's northern frontier.

A 1788 report adds that the bishops had the authority to appoint judges and barons and to offer pardons. [10]

Except for a brief period of suppression during the English Civil War, the bishopric retained this temporal power until it was abolished by the Durham (County Palatine) Act 1836 with the powers returned to the Crown. [11] A shadow of the former temporal power can be seen in the bishop's coat of arms, which contains a coronet as well as a mitre and crossed crozier and sword. The bishop of Durham also continued to hold a seat in the House of Lords; that has continued to this day by virtue of the ecclesiastical office. [12] [13]

List of bishops

Early Medieval bishops

Bishops of Lindisfarne
635651 Aidan Saint Aidan.
651661 Finan Saint Finan.
661664 Colmán Saint Colmán.
664 Tuda Saint Tuda.
In 664 the diocese was merged to York by Wilfrid (who succeeded Tuda following his death), leaving one large diocese in the large northern Kingdom of Northumbria.
The diocese was reinstated in 678 by Theodore of Tarsus, Archbishop of Canterbury following Wilfrid's banishment from Northumbria by King Ecgfrith. Its new seat was initially (at least in part) at Hexham (until a new diocese was created there in 680).
678685 Eata of Hexham Saint Eata.
685687 Cuthbert Saint Cuthbert.
688698 Eadberht Saint Eadberht.
698721 Eadfrith Saint Eadfrith.
721740 Æthelwold Saint Æthelwold.
740780 Cynewulf
780803 Higbald
803821 Egbert
821830 Heathwred
830845 Ecgred
845854 Eanbert
854875 Eardulf
883889 Eardulf
900c. 915 Cutheard
c.915c.925 Tilred
c.925maybe 942? Wilgred
maybe 942?unknown Uchtred
unknown, expelled after 6 months Sexhelm
before 946maybe 968? Aldred
maybe 968?maybe 968? Ælfsige Called "Bishop of St Cuthbert".
990995 Aldhun According to the traditional account, the see was moved to Durham.
In 995, the King had paid the Danegeld to the Danish and Norwegian Kings and peace was restored. According to the legend, Aldhun was on his way to reestablish the see at Lindisfarne when he received a divine vision that the body of St Cuthbert should be laid to rest in Durham.
Source(s): [14]
Bishops of Durham
9951018 Aldhun
10211041 Edmund
10411042 Eadred
10421056 Æthelric
10561071 Æthelwine
Source(s): [15]

Pre-Reformation bishops

Bishops of Durham
10711080 Walcher
10811096 William de St-Calais
10991128 Ranulf Flambard
11331140 Geoffrey Rufus
11411143 William Cumin
11431153 William of St. Barbara
11531195 Hugh de Puiset
11971208 Philip of Poitou
12091213 Richard Poore Election quashed by Pope Innocent III (who was quarrelling with King John); later elected and consecrated.
12141214 John de Gray Died before consecration.
12151215 Morgan Election quashed.
12171226 Richard Marsh
12261227 William Scot Election quashed.
12291237 Richard Poore Translated from Salisbury.
12371240 Thomas de Melsonby Resigned before consecration.
12411249 Nicholas Farnham
12491260 Walter of Kirkham
12601274 Robert Stitchill
12741283 Robert of Holy Island
12841310 Antony Bek Also Titular Patriarch of Jerusalem from 1306 to 1311 (the only English person ever to hold this post).
13111316 Richard Kellaw In the ensuing vacancy, Thomas de Charlton, John Walwayn and John de Kynardesley were nominated by Edward II, Humphrey de Bohun, 4th Earl of Hereford and Thomas, 2nd Earl of Lancaster respectively, but the chapter elected Henry de Stamford OSB on 6 November 1316. That election was never confirmed, but quashed by Pope John XXII on 10 December.
13171333 Lewis de Beaumont
13331345 Richard de Bury
13451381 Thomas Hatfield
13821388 John Fordham Translated to Ely.
13881406 Walter Skirlaw Translated from Bath & Wells.
14061437 Thomas Langley
14371457 Robert Neville Translated from Salisbury
14571476 Lawrence Booth Translated to York.
14761483 William Dudley
14841494 John Sherwood
14941501 Richard Foxe from NPG.jpg Richard Foxe Translated from Bath & Wells, later translated to Winchester.
15021505 William Senhouse Translated from Carlisle.
15071508 Christopher Bainbridge.jpg Christopher Bainbridge Translated to York.
15091523 Thomas Ruthall
15231529 Cardinal Thomas Wolsey.jpg Thomas Wolsey Archbishop of York. Held Durham in commendam .
15301552 CuthbertTunstall.jpg Cuthbert Tunstall Translated from London.
Source(s): [15]

Post-Reformation bishops

Bishops of Durham
15301552 CuthbertTunstall.jpg Cuthbert Tunstall
15521554The diocese was abolished under Edward VI and restored after Mary I became queen. [16]
15541559 CuthbertTunstall.jpg Cuthbert Tunstall Deprived in 1559, when he refused to take the Oath of Supremacy after the accession of Elizabeth I. Died on 18 November that year. [17]
15611576 James Pilkington print.jpg James Pilkington
15771587 No image.svg Richard Barnes Translated from Carlisle.
15891595 MatthewHutton (1529-1606).jpg Matthew Hutton Translated to York.
15951606 Tobie (or Tobias) Matthew from NPG.jpg Tobias Matthew Translated to York.
16061617 Bp William James.jpg William James
16171627 Richard Neile portrait.jpg Richard Neile Translated from Lincoln, later translated to Winchester.
16271628 George Mountaigne DD.jpg George Montaigne Translated from London, later translated to York.
16281632 Bp John Howson.jpg John Howson Translated from Oxford
16321646 Thomas Morton portrait.jpg Thomas Morton Translated from Lichfield; deprived of the see when the English episcopacy was abolished by Parliament on 9 October 1646; died 1659.
16461660The diocese was abolished during the Commonwealth and the Protectorate. [18] [19]
16601672 John Cosin Peterhouse.jpg John Cosin
16741722 Nathaniel Crew, 3rd Baron Crew from NPG.jpg Nathaniel Crew Translated from Oxford.
17221730 William Talbot by Kneller.jpg William Talbot Translated from Salisbury.
17301750 EdwardChandler.jpg Edward Chandler Translated from Lichfield.
17501752 Joseph Butler, Bp of Bristol.jpg Joseph Butler Translated from Bristol.
17521771 Bp Richard Trevor.jpg Richard Trevor Translated from St David's.
17711787 John Egerton Ep Dunelm.jpg John Egerton Translated from Lichfield.
17871791 Thomas Thurlow British Museum.jpg Thomas Thurlow Translated from Lincoln.
17911826 Shute Barrington by Lawrence.jpg Shute Barrington Translated from Salisbury.
18261836 William Van Mildert by Thomas Lawrence.jpg William Van Mildert Translated from Llandaff.
Source(s): [15]

Late modern bishops (since 1836)

Bishops of Durham
18361856 Edward Maltby.jpg Edward Maltby Translated from Chichester.
18561860 AbpCharlesThomasLongley.jpg Charles Longley Translated from Ripon, later translated to York, then to Canterbury.
18601861 Bishop HM Villiers.jpg Henry Montagu Villiers Translated from Carlisle.
18611879 Charles Baring portrait.jpg Charles Baring Translated from Gloucester and Bristol.
18791889 Joseph Barber Lightfoot by WB Richmond (crop).jpg J. B. Lightfoot Previously Lady Margaret's Professor of Divinity at Cambridge.
18901901 Brooke Foss Westcott by WE Miller.jpg Brooke Foss Westcott Previously Regius Professor of Divinity at Cambridge.
19011920 Handley-Moule.jpg Handley Moule Previously Norrisian Professor of Divinity at Cambridge.
19201939 Hensley circa 1900.jpg Hensley Henson Translated from Hereford.
19391952 No image.svg Alwyn Williams Translated to Winchester.
19521956 Michael Ramsey 1974.jpg Michael Ramsey Translated to York, then to Canterbury.
19561966 No image.svg Maurice Harland Translated from Lincoln.
19661972 IanRamsey.jpg Ian Ramsey Previously Nolloth Professor of the Philosophy of the Christian Religion at Oxford.
19731983 John Stapylton Habgood (1981).jpg John Habgood Translated to York.
19841994 No image.svg David Jenkins Previously Professor of Theology University of Leeds
19942003 No image.svg Michael Turnbull Translated from Rochester
20032010 NTWright071220.jpg N. T. Wright Previously Dean of Lichfield; returned to academia.
20112013 Archbishop of Canterbury (32195477582) (cropped).jpg Justin Welby Translated to Canterbury. [20]
20142024 Official portrait of The Lord Bishop of Durham crop 2.jpg Paul Butler Previously Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham; [21] confirmed 20 January 2014; [22] retired 29 February 2024. [23]
Source(s): [15]

Assistant bishops

Among those who have served as assistant bishops of the diocese have been:

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  20. Diocese of Durham – New Bishop Announced
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