Canterbury, metropolitan diocese of.
The diocese, comprising east Kent, was founded in 601 at the instigation of Pope Gregory the Great, four years after Augustine's
arrival in Kent. The boundaries of the diocese itself have changed little, though from 1375 to 1558 Calais fell within it. The number of sees in the Canterbury province, however, has varied from 12 in 735 to 29 today (30 including the modern diocese of Europe
). Disestablishment removed the Welsh bishoprics in 1920. Despite Gregory's intention that London should be the metropolitan see after Augustine's death, respect for the latter and the fragility of Christianity
in Essex reinforced Canterbury's primatial position. Its early vigour, responsible for Paulinus'
successful mission to Northumbria in 625, soon declined so much that there was a vacancy in mid-century. In the late 8th-cent. the short-lived metropolitan status of Lichfield
almost eclipsed Canterbury. Pope Leo's decision to restore the primacy to Canterbury was confirmed by a synod at Clofesho in 803. Since Gregory's blueprint for two provinces of Canterbury and York, left their relationship unclear, York claimed independence from Canterbury. The dispute reached a peak in 1070 when Lanfranc
demanded obedience from Thomas of York, but following a visit to Rome
and a council at Winchester in 1072, Canterbury's precedence, albeit possibly proved with forged evidence, was confirmed. It arose again in 1118 and continued until Innocent VI (1352–62) resolved the question. York was to have metropolitan authority over the north as ‘primate of England
’, Canterbury to have national precedence as ‘primate of all England’. Though still retaining his diocesan seat at Canterbury, the archbishop's official residence as primate since c.
1185 has been at Lambeth palace
, suitably close to Westminster and Whitehall. In imperial days all colonial sees looked to Canterbury for oversight. Today, though all Anglican provinces are autonomous, Canterbury is accorded unofficial primacy of honour in the Anglican communion, from Japan
, from the USA and Uganda
to Polynesia. Thus the archbishop presides over the Lambeth conference each decade and, as universal leader, has represented world-wide Anglicanism in visits to the pope and at the historic visit of Pope John Paul II to Canterbury in 1982. Increasingly the archbishop has found himself spokesman in the House of Lords
not only for Christian communities, but for British adherents of non-Christian faiths. The present cathedral, originally monastic, begun by William of Sens in 1174, is a fine blend of French and English styles.
Revd Dr William M. Marshall