Diocese of Durham

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Diocese of Durham
Church of England
Province: York
Arms of the Bishop of Durham

Durham Cathedral
Bishop: Paul Butler
Cathedral: Durham Cathedral
Bishop of Jarrow
Archdeaconries: Auckland, Durham, Sunderland
No. of parishes: 249
No. of churches: 292
Website: durham.anglican.org

The Diocese of Durham is a Church of England diocese covering County Durham. The episcopal seat is Durham Cathedral, a massive early Gothic cathedral around which the City of Durham was built.

The Diocese was created in 883 as the Diocese of Chester-le-Street, but in 995 the body of St Cuthbert was brought from Chester to the defensive hill at Durham and the bishopric became the Diocese of Durham in that year of around 1000, and this led to the founding of the city. Legend states that the Order of St Cuthbert brought the saint's body here and the body could not be moved from the spot, so the cathedral was built at the peak of the hill, where Cuthbert's body would rest.

The Bishop of Durham lives not in the city but at Auckland Castle in Bishop Auckland. The diocese's administrative centre, the Diocesan Office, is located in the Scotland Wing of Auckland Castle.



The line of bishops of Durham stretches back to the 10th century, when Aldhun (995-1018), transferred his see to Durham. At the time the Diocese included County Durham and Northumberland, as it did until the nineteenth century.

The Bishop has a uniquely powerful position in the Middle Ages due to the perious state of the north in those days. 7th and 8th century Kingdom of Northumbria, which stretched from the Humber estuary to the Firth of Forth. Subsequently the Kingdom came under Danish]] and English sovereignty and was transformed into an Earldom.

When William the Conqueror became king of England in 1066, he soon realised the need to control Northumbria to protect his kingdom from Scottish incursions. He gained the allegiance of both the Bishop of Durham and the Earl of Northumbria by confirming their privileges and acknowledging the remote independence of Northumbria.

To quell rebellions, William installed Robert Comine, a Norman noble, as the Earl of Northumberland, but Comine and his 700 men were massacred in Durham. In revenge, the King raided Northumbria in the Harrying of the North. Aethelwine, the English Bishop of Durham, tried to flee with Northumbrian treasures, but was caught and imprisoned. He later died in confinement, leaving his see vacant for William to the King to appoint William Walcher as bishop of Durham in 1071.


Durham Cathedral

The King appointed Waltheof, an Anglo-Saxon of the old Northumbria house, as the new Earl. Bishop William was on friendly terms with Earl Waltheof, who built a castle at Durham for the bishop. After another rebellion, Waltheof was executed in 1075 and in his place William Walcher was appointed Earl, becoming the first "Prince Bishop", never an official title but a fair description of the extraordinary powers enjoyed by the bishops. Walcher was well-intentioned but proved an incompetent leader. He was murdered in Gateshead in 1081.

King [[William II divided the Earldom into two parts: the lands north of the rivers Tyne and Derwent were ruled by the Earls of Northumberland, while the lands south of the rivers were put under the control of the Bishop of Durham.

The lands ruled by the bishops became known as the 'County Palatine of Durham', a defensive buffer zone between England and the Northumbria-Scottish borderland. Due to its strategic importance and its remoteness from London, the County Palatinate became a virtually autonomous entity, in which the Prince-Bishop possessed the powers of a King. Specifically, the Prince-Bishops had the authority to

  • hold their own parliaments
  • raise their own armies
  • appoint their own sheriffs and justices
  • administer their own laws
  • levy taxes and customs duties
  • create fairs and markets
  • issue charters
  • salvage shipwrecks
  • collect revenue from mines
  • administer the forests
  • mint their own coins

For a period, Carlisle was also placed under the bishop's jurisdiction, to protect the northwest of England.

Durham's exceptional status reached its zenith by 1300, when Bishop Antony Beck remarked that:

There are two kings in England, namely the Lord King of England, wearing a crown in sign of his regality and the Lord Bishop of Durham wearing a mitre in place of a crown, in sign of his regality in the diocese of Durham.

The Bishop's remarks were not well received at court, but his powers remained unabated.

To ensure that episcopal functions continued to be performed while the diocesan bishop was playing his part in political affairs of state, suffragan bishops were appointed. For instance, Bishop Thomas Langley served as chancellor to the Kings Henry IV, Henry V and Henry VI and was frequently away in London and occasionally overseas.


In 1536 Henry VIII greatly diminished the Bishop's secular authority, which was further reduced during and after the Civil War in the next century.

From 1537 to 1572, there was one suffragan Bishop of Berwick. Since 1572, this position has remained in abeyance, and Berwick-upon-Tweed is now in Newcastle diocese.

After the Union of the Crowns of England and Scotland in 1603, the County Palatinate, originally founded to check Scottish incursions, increasingly became an anachronism.

On 5 July 1836 the palatinate was finally removed from the Bishop and vested as a franchise in the Crown, from which time County Durham has been a county like any other. In 1844 the Islandshire exclave was transferred to the jurisdiction of Northumberland, while the Bishop's duty to maintain a major fortress overlooking the Tweed at Norham also came to an end. In 1882 the Diocese lost Northumberland, when a new diocese, the Diocese of Newcastle was created. In 1971 the Courts Act modernised the English courts system and abolished the Palatinate courts.

Since 1906, there has again been a suffragan bishop in the diocese; the Bishop of Jarrow.

Still, people born in Bedlington or the other parts of old North Durham, had birth certificates issued with the County Palatine of Durham printed on them, and the North Durham satellite areas governed their areas as Urban District Councils still under the rule of Durham. This prevailed until 1974, when administrative boundaries where changed and all of these areas, and other "autonomous" towns connected to Durham, lost their independence.


To differentiate his ecclesiastical and civil functions, the Bishops used two or more seals: the traditional almond-shaped seal of a cleric, and the oval seal of a nobleman. They also had a large round seal showing them seated administering justice on one side, and, on the other, armed and mounted on horseback, the same pattern as was (and is) used by monarchs as the Great Seal of the Realm.

Coat of arms

As a symbol of his palatine jurisdiction, the Bishop of Durham’s coat of arms was set against a crosier and a sword, instead of two crosiers, and the mitre above the coat of arms was encircled with a coronet, usually of the form known as a ‘crest coronet’ (and which is blazoned as a ‘ducal coronet’ though not actually the coronet of a duke). Although the jurisdiction was surrendered to the Crown in 1836, these heraldic symbols of their former power remain.

Bishop's Palace

The bishop's palace is Auckland Castle in Bishop Auckland. Until the 1830s and the national mood at the time of the Great Reform Act, the Bishop had at least two more castles; Norham Castle in Northumberland and his main Palace at Durham Castle now occupied by the University of Durham. The Bishop still has the right to use "his" suite at Durham Castle, although the right he retained to stable his horses in buildings adjacent to Palace Green in Durham has lapsed – it was noted in the preamble to University of Durham Act 1936 that the Bishop no longer kept horses.

Bishops of Durham

The Bishop of Durham is bishop responsible for the Diocese of Durham. As the senior bishop of the Province of York after the Archbishop, the bishop is a member of the House of Lords by right, not by rotation as most bishops are. The bishop is one of two (the other is the Bishop of Bath and Wells) who escorts the sovereign at the coronation.

The Bishop is officially styled The Right Reverend Father in God, (Christian Name), by Divine Providence Lord Bishop of Durham. In signatures, the bishop's family name is replaced by Dunelm, from the Latin name for Durham, a form of Old English Dunholm). In the past, Bishops of Durham varied their signatures between Dunelm and the French Duresm.

The bishop lived in Durham Castle from its construction in the 11th century. In 1832, Auckland Castle became the official residence of the Bishops of Durham until July 2012 when ownership of the castle was transferred over to the Auckland Castle Trust, a charitable foundation with the aim of beginning a major restoration of the grounds and castle and creating permanent exhibitions on the history of Christianity in Britain and the North East.[1] The bishop continues to have offices in Auckland Castle but no longer reside there.[2]

Early Mediæval bishops

Bishops of Durham
From Until Incumbent Notes
995 1018 Aldhun Previously Bishop of Lindisfarne.
1021 1041 Edmund
1041 1042 Eadred
1042 1056 Æthelric
1056 1071 Æthelwine
Source(s): [3]

Before the Reformation

Bishops of Durham
From Until Incumbent Notes
1071 1080 William Walcher
1081 1096 William de St-Calais
1099 1128 Ranulf Flambard
1133 1140 Geoffrey Rufus
1141 1143 William Cumin
1143 1153 William of St. Barbara
1153 1195 Hugh de Puiset
1197 1208 Philip of Poitou
1209 1213 Richard Poore Election quashed by Pope Innocent III disputing with King John; later elected and consecrated.
1214 1214 John de Gray Died before consecration.
1215 1215 Morgan Election quashed.
1217 1226 Richard Marsh
1226 1227 William Scot Election quashed.
1229 1237 Richard Poore Translated from Salisbury.
1237 1240 Thomas de Melsonby Resigned before consecration.
1241 1249 Nicholas Farnham
1249 Walter of Kirkham
1260 1274 Robert Stitchill
1274 1283 Robert of Holy Island
1284 1310 Antony Bek Also Titular Patriarch of Jerusalem from 1306 - 1311
1311 1316 Richard Kellaw
1318 1333 Lewis de Beaumont
1333 1345 Richard de Bury
1345 1381 Thomas Hatfield
1382 1388 John Fordham Translated to Ely.
1388 1406 Walter Skirlaw Translated from Bath & Wells.
1406 1437 Thomas Langley
1437 1457 Robert Neville Translated from Salisbury
1457 1476 Lawrence Booth Translated to York.
1476 1483 William Dudley
1484 1494 John Sherwood
1494 1501 Richard Foxe Translated from Bath & Wells, later translated to Winchester.
1502 1505 William Senhouse Translated from Carlisle.
1507 1508 Christopher Bainbridge Translated to York.
1509 1523 Thomas Ruthall
1523 1529 Thomas Wolsey Archbishop of York. Held Durham in commendam.
1530 1559 Cuthbert Tunstall Translated from London.
Source(s): [3]

From the Reformation to the end of the Palatinate

Bishops of Durham
From Until Incumbent Notes
1530 1559 Cuthbert Tunstall
1561 1576 James Pilkington
1577 1587 Richard Barnes Translated from Carlisle.
1589 1595 Matthew Hutton Translated to York.
1595 1606 Tobias Matthew Translated to York.
1606 1617 William James
1617 1627 Richard Neile Translated from Lincoln, later translated to Winchester.
1628 George Montaigne Translated from London, later translated to York.
1628 1632 John Howson Translated from Oxford
1632 1659 Thomas Morton Translated from Lichfield.
1660 1672 John Cosin
1674 1722 Nathaniel Crew Translated from Oxford. ('The Hon Nathaniel Crew' 1679–1697, then 'The Rt Hon The Lord Crew' from 1697)
1722 1730 William Talbot Translated from Salisbury.
1730 1750 Edward Chandler Translated from Lichfield.
1750 1752 Joseph Butler Translated from Bristol.
1752 1771 Richard Trevor Translated from St David's.
1771 1787 John Egerton Translated from Lichfield.
1787 1791 Thomas Thurlow Translated from Lincoln.
1791 1826 Shute Barrington Translated from Salisbury.
1826 1836 William Van Mildert Translated from Llandaff.
Source(s): [3]

Bishops since 1836

Bishops of Durham
From Until Incumbent Notes
1836 1856 Edward Maltby Translated from Chichester.
1856 1860 Charles Longley Translated from Ripon, later translated to York, then to Canterbury.
1860 1861 Henry Villiers Translated from Carlisle.
1861 1879 Charles Baring Translated from Gloucester and Bristol.
1879 1889 Joseph Lightfoot Previously Lady Margaret's Professor of Divinity.
1890 1901 Brooke Westcott Previously Regius Professor of Divinity at Cambridge.
1901 1920 Handley Moule Previously Norrisian Professor of Divinity.
1920 1939 Hensley Henson Translated from Hereford.
1939 1952 Alwyn Williams Translated to Winchester.
1952 1956 Michael Ramsey Translated to York, then to Canterbury.
1956 1966 Maurice Harland Translated to Lincoln.
1966 1972 Ian Ramsey
1973 1983 John Habgood Translated to York.
1984 1994 David Jenkins Previously Professor of Theology University of Leeds
1994 2003 Michael Turnbull Translated from Rochester
2003 2010 Tom Wright Previously Dean of Lichfield; returned to academia.
2011 2013 Justin Welby Translated to Canterbury.
2014 (announced) Bishop-designate Paul Butler Translated from Southwell and Nottingham; appointment announced 12 September 2013.
Source(s): [3]

Outside links


Dioceses of the Church of England

Province of Canterbury:
Bath & Wells •
Birmingham • Bristol • Canterbury • Chelmsford • Chichester • Coventry • Derby • Ely • Exeter • Gibraltar in Europe • Gloucester • Guildford • Hereford • Leicester • Lichfield • Lincoln • London • Norwich • Oxford • Peterborough • Portsmouth • Rochester • Saint Albans • Saint Edmundsbury & Ipswich • Salisbury • Southwark • Truro • Winchester • Worcester
Province of York:
Blackburn •
Carlisle • Chester • Durham • Leeds • Liverpool • Manchester • Newcastle • Sheffield • Sodor & Man • Southwell & Nottingham • York