Archbishop of Canterbury

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Arms of the see of Canterbury
Arms of the see of Canterbury

The Archbishop of Canterbury is the senior clergyman of the established Church of England and symbolic head of the worldwide Anglican Communion. The present incumbent is Rowan Williams.

Today the archbishop fills four main roles:

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 his cathedra is located.

As holder of one of the "five great sees" (along with the York, London, Durham and Winchester), the Archbishop of Canterbury is ex officio one of the Lords Spiritual of House of Lords.

Since Henry VIII broke with Rome the Archbishops of Canterbury have been selected by the English (latterly British) monarch. Today the choice is made in the name of the Sovereign by the prime minister, from a shortlist of two selected by an ad-hoc committee called the Crown Nominations Commission.

As the current archbishop, the Right Honourable and Most Reverend Dr Rowan Douglas Williams, the 104th Lord Archbishop of Canterbury and Primate of All England was enthroned at Canterbury Cathedral on 27 February 2003; he signs himself Rowan Cantuar. He was previously Archbishop of Wales and Bishop of Monmouth.



The first Archbishop of Canterbury was Saint Augustine who arrived in Kent in 597. He was appointed by King Ethelbert, on his conversion to Christianity, about the year 598. Since then the Archbishops of Canterbury have been referred to as occupying the Chair of St Augustine.

Before the break with Papal authority in the 16th Century the Church of England could also be understood as being part of the Roman Catholic Church. As an established national church it still considers itself part of the broader Western Catholic tradition and also the 'Mother Church' of the international Anglican Communion.

Before the invasion of England by the Saxons, the Christian Britons had three Archbishops, seated in London, York, and Caerleon, an ancient city of South Wales. The Archbishop of London became extinct when the Britons were driven out of eastern and southern Great Britain. When Pope Gregory the Great sent Augustine to convert the Saxons, the archbishopric was located at Canterbury, which was the capital of the Kingdom of Kent. King Ethelbert was baptised at Canterbury, and embraced the doctrines of Christianity before the rest of the Heptarchy. The Archbishopic of Caerleon was relocated to St David's in Pembrokeshire, and was later absorbed into the See of Canterbury.

Province and Diocese

The Archbishop of Canterbury exercises metropolitical (or supervisory) jurisdiction over the Province of Canterbury, which encompasses thirty of the forty-four dioceses of the Church of England. (The remaining fourteen dioceses, in northern England, fall within the Province of York.) Formerly, the four dioceses of Wales were also under the Province of Canterbury; in 1920, however, the Welsh dioceses 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. 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 Worcestor as Chaplain and the Bishop of Rochester as Cross-Bearer.

The question of whether the Archbishop of Canterbury or the Archbishop of York should take precedence was once a cause of a long struggle. The dispute was temporarily resolved in 1071 after Lanfranc, Archbishop of Canterbury, and Thomas of Bayeaux, Archbishop of York, submitted the matter to the Pope. Pope Alexander II decided that Canterbury was to have precedence, and that future Archbishops of York would have to be consecrated by, and swear allegiance to, the Archbishop of Canterbury.

In 1119, however, the Archbishop-Elect of York, Thurstan, refused to acknowledge the pre-eminence of Canterbury. As a consequence, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Ralph d'Escures, refused to consecrate him. When Thurstan appealed to Rome, Pope Callixtus II not only personally consecrated him, but also issued a papal bull repudiating the supremacy of Canterbury. The matter was finally settled by Pope Innocent VI during the fourteenth century. Under Pope Innocent's arrangement, which lasts to this day, the Archbishop of Canterbury would be recognised as superior to the Archbishop of York. The former would be acknowledged as "Primate of All England", and the latter as "Primate of England". The pre-eminence of the Archbishop of Canterbury is acknowledged by an Act of Parliament passed during the reign of Henry VIII.

The Archbishop of Canterbury also has a precedence of honour over the other archbishops of the Anglican Communion. He is recognised as primus inter pares, or first amongst equals. The Archbishop of Canterbury, however, does not exercise any direct authority in the provinces outside England.

The Archbishop has four suffragan bishops. One of these, the Suffragan Bishop of Dover, is given the additional title of "Bishop in Canterbury" and empowered to act almost as if he were the diocesan bishop of the Diocese of Canterbury, since the Archbishop is so frequently away fulfillfilling national and international duties. The Suffragan Bishop of Maidstone is a second assistant working in the diocese. The suffragan bishops of Ebbsfleet and Richborough, on the other hand, are provincial episcopal visitors for the whole Province of Canterbury, licensed by the Archbishop as "flying bishops" to visit parishes throughout the province who are uncomfortable with the ministrations of their local bishop who has participated in the ordination of women.

Style and privileges

Both the Archbishops of Canterbury and York are styled "The Most Reverend"; retired Archbishops as "The Right Reverend". Archbishops are, by convention, appointed to the Privy Council, and may therefore also use "The Right Honourable" for life. In formal documents, the Archbishop of Canterbury is referred to as "The Most Reverend Father in God, 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", "Father" or "Dr Williams" (in the current instance).

The surname of the Archbishop of Canterbury is not used in formal documents; only the forenames and see are mentioned. The Archbishop is legally permitted to sign his name as "Cantuar" (from the Latin for Canterbury). He shares the right to use only a title in the signature with the Archbishop of York, other bishops and Peers of the Realm.

In the order of precedence, the Archbishop of Canterbury is ranked above all individuals in the realm, with the exception of the Sovereign and Royal Family. Immediately below him is the Lord Chancellor, and only then comes the Archbishop of York.

The Archbishop of Canterbury's official residence in London is Lambeth Palace. Until the 19th century, the Archbishops also had major residences at Croydon Palace and then Addington Palace. The following Archbishops have died at Lambeth: Wittlesey, in 1375; Kemp, 1453; Dean, 1504; all buried in Canterbury Cathedral: Cardinal Pole, 1558, after lying in state here 40 days was buried at Canterbury; Parker, 1575, buried in Lambeth Chapel; Whitgift, 1604, buried at Croydon; Bancroft, 1610, buried at Lambeth; Juxon, 1663, buried in the chapel of St. John's College, Oxford; Sheldon, 1667, buried at Croydon; Tillotson, 1694, buried in the church of St. Laurence Jewry, London; Tennison, 1715; and Potter, 1747, both buried at Croydon; Seeker, 1768; Cornwallis, 1783, and Moore, 1805, all buried at Lambeth. In 1381, the Archbishop, Simon of Sudbury, fell a victim to Wat Tyler and his followers, when they attacked Lambeth Palace.

See also

External links

The Anglican Communion
The "Instruments of Unity"

Archbishop of Canterbury | Lambeth Conference | Anglican Consultative Council | Primates' Meeting

Churches of the Anglican Communion

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Churches in full communion

Philippine Independent Church | Mar Thoma Syrian Church of India | Old Catholic Church

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