Tuesday, May 27, 2008


The Ancient Diocese of Canterbury was the Mother-Church and Primatial See of All England, from 597 till the death of the last Catholic Archbishop, Cardinal Pole, in 1558.

History - 597 to 1558

When St. Augustine was sent to evangelize England by St. Gregory the Great, he found an opening for his labours in the fact that Æthelburga, or Bertha, Queen of Æthelberht, King of Kent, was a Christian and a disciple of St. Gregory of Tours. This led him to Canterbury, where he converted the king and many thousands of Saxons in 597, the very year of his landing. Though St. Gregory had planned the division of England into two archbishoprics, one at London and one at York, St. Augustine's success at Canterbury explains how the southern archiepiscopal see came to be fixed there instead of at London. The first beginnings of the diocese are told by St. Bede (Hist. Eccl., I, xxxiii). "When Augustine, the first Archbishop of Canterbury, assumed the episcopal throne in that royal city, he recovered therein, by the King's assistance, a church which, as he was told, had been constructed by the original labour of Roman believers. This church he consecrated in the name of the Saviour, our God and Lord Jesus Christ, and there he established an habitation for himself and all his successors".

There were in all sixty-eight archbishops during the period, just short of a thousand years, in which Canterbury was the chief Catholic see in England. In the following list the dates of some of the earlier prelates cannot be regarded as critically certain, but are those usually given. Those marked with an asterisk became cardinals.

St. Augustine, 597-604.
St. Laurence, 604-619.
St. Mellitus, 619-624.
St. Justus, 624-627.
St. Honorius, 627-653.
St. Deusdedit, 655-664.
St. Theodore, 668-690.
St. Berhtwald, 693-731.
St. Tatwin, 731-734.
Nothelm, 735-740.
Cuthbert, 741-758.
Bregwin, 759-765.
Jaenberht, 766-790.
Ethelhard, 793-805.
Wulfred, 805-832.
Feologild, 832-.
Ceolnoth, 833-870.
Ethelred, 870-889.
Plegmund, 890-914.
Athelm, 914-923.
Wulfhelm, 923-942.
St. Odo, 942-958.
Alfsin, 959-959.
St. Dunstan, 960-988.
Ethelgar, 988-989.
Sigeric, 990-994.
Elfric, 995-1005.
St. Ælphege, 1005-1012.
Living, 1013-1020.
St. Ethelnoth, 1020-1038.
St. Eadsi, 1038-1050.
Robert, 1051-1052.
Stigand, 1052-1070.
Lanfranc, 1070-1089.
St. Anselm, 1093-1109.
Ralph d'Escures, 1114-1122.
William de Corbeuil, 1123-1136.
Theobald, 1139-1161.
St. Thomas Becket, 1162-1170.
Richard, 1174-1184.
Baldwin, 1185-1190.
Hubert Walter, 1193-1205.
Stephen Langton*, 1207-1228.
Richard Grant, 1229-1231.
St. Edmund Rich, 1234-1240.
Boniface of Savoy, 1245-1270.
Robert Kilwardby*, 1273-1279.
John Peckham, 1279-1292.
Robert Winchelsey, 1294-1313.
Walter Reynolds, 1313-1327.
Simon Meopham, 1328-1333.
John Stratford, 1333-1348.
Thomas Bradwardine, 1349-1349.
Simon Islip, 1349-1366.
Simon Langham*, 1366-1368.
William Whittlesey, 1368-1374.
Simon Sudbury, 1375-1381.
William Courtenay, 1381-1396.
Thomas Arundel, 1396-1414.
Henry Chicheley*, 1414-1443.
John Stafford*, 1443-1452.
John Kemp*, 1452-1454.
Thomas Bourchier*, 1454-1486.
John Morton*, 1486-1500.
Henry Dean, 1502-1503.
William Warham, 1503-1532.
Thomas Cranmer, 1533-1556.
Reginald Pole*, 1556-1558.

Of this list seventeen archbishops were recognized as saints, nine were cardinals, and twelve became Lord Chancellors of England.

The last Catholic Archbishop of Canterbury - Reginald Pole.

Having broken his own vow of celibacy, Thomas Cranmer easily divorced the king from Queen Catherine. He allowed the shrine of St. Thomas to be desecrated and plundered in 1538, and in 1541 he ordered the tombs of all the canonized archbishops to be destroyed. Most of the property of the see he was forced to surrender to the king. In 1539 the two great monasteries of Christ Church and St. Augustine's had been suppressed, and their property seized. By his office Cranmer was the head of the Church in England, but under Henry he helped to despoil it, and under Edward he led the reforming party against it, abolishing the Mass, and stripping the churches. The spiritual and material ruin thus accomplished could not be effectually remedied during the brief episcopate of Cardinal Pole (1556-1558). This prelate did all that was possible in so short a time, but his death, which took place on the 17th of November, 1558, brought to a close the line of Catholic archbishops. With the accession of Elizabeth—which took place on the same day—the new state of things, which has continued to the present time, was begun. Canterbury, as a city, has never recovered from the loss of St. Thomas's shrine and the destruction of the two great monasteries, but the cathedral still remains, one of the finest buildings in the country, as a witness to its former glory.

Source. Burton, Edwin. "Canterbury." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 3. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. 27 May 2008 .

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