Session 13 Church History


This is really too big a topic to cover in just one small document such as this but it is worthwhile giving an overview of some important events in the hope that you may wish to find out more about the details.



The Early Church after Pentecost

We can read about how the Church spread after the death of Christ in the Acts of the Apostles.  It gives us a good idea of how the Apostles travelled out from Jerusalem although not all the details are there. For example, it is thought that St. Thomas may have travelled into India to spread the faith.  Although we have no written evidence of this, Christians in India will tell us that this is how the faith spread there.


Chapter 15 of Acts gives us details of what became known as the Council of Jerusalem (c. AD 50) when some of the Apostles, including Peter and Paul met to discuss whether or not Gentile converts to Christianity should be circumcised.  The first Christians were Jews and were seen as a sect within the Jewish faith but when non-Jews were converting, there was conflict as to whether or not they should abide by the Jewish law.  The Council decided that Gentiles were not bound by Jewish law and from then on, all Christians were united and were separate from Judaism.  This laid the foundations for how the Church would act in the future and since then, Councils have been called, often to settle a point of doctrine because of some heresy being taught.


The Didache (pronounced 'did ah kay')   'The Teaching (Didache) of the Lord, by the Twelve Apostles, to the Gentiles'  This is a very ancient document stating early Christian belief and how the Eucharist should be celebrated.  It is thought that it may even pre-date the Gospels


Within the Roman Empire, Christians were not allowed to practise their faith and were often persecuted for doing so.  Eventually, the Emperor Constantine allowed religious freedom in AD313 and eventually, Christianity became the official religion.


Christianity comes to Britain.


 Roman Baths

The first Christians to come to England were among the Romans who settled here after the Roman invasions.  There is some archaeological evidence to support this, especially at Hadrian’s Wall where there are remains of buildings which possibly are churches but silver cups which are unmistakably Communion cups have also been found together with an altar stone.  


St. Alban  (d.209)

He was a Roman soldier in Britain who was so impressed by a Christian priest to whom he had offered hospitality, that he converted to Christianity.  He was arrested and brought before the Governor in Verulamium (now St Albans) and was commanded to give up his Christian faith and offer sacrifice to the pagan gods. This he refused to do.  He was sentenced to death but the executioner, too was converted to the faith by Alban’s example so he too was beheaded at the same time. 


Christians kept the faith in spite of the persecution and at the beginning of the 4th century, Christianity was the official religion of the Roman Empire.  There is documental evidence to show that the Church was sufficiently organised by 315 to be able to send two bishops to the Synod of Arles and this in itself shows us that they were in communion with Rome.   



There was as ancient custom of going into the wilderness to meditate and to seek enlightenment.  Prophets in the Old Testament such as Moses and Elijah did this and of course, Jesus himself did it before embarking on his ministry.   The early Christians who went into the wilderness were known as hermits (from eremus meaning desert).  They were considered holy men by the people in the nearby villages who brought them offerings of food and would consult them on religious of philosophical matters.

St Anthony of Egypt (251-356)

 Orthodox Saints

He was such a hermit from Alexandria in Egypt and became known for his austere, devout lifestyle.  Soon others joined him and eventually there were groups of hermits in various places in the Eastern Roman Empire.  Each hermit lived independently in his own cave but in close proximity to each other. This was the start of monasticism. (This is still the style of monasticism in the Eastern Catholic and Orthodox Church)


 Saint Patrick

St. Patrick  (b. 389)

It is not clear exactly where he was born but it is thought that it was in the region of the Severn estuary, which means that if he was born on the northern side, he may have been a Welshman! His father was a Roman official and although Patrick had been brought up as a Christian by his parents, he had not really developed a knowledge and love of the Lord.  When he was sixteen, Patrick was captured by Irish bandits who took him to their own country where he was forced to work as a slave, looking after sheep on the hillside.  This was the time of the awakening of his faith.  He knew his bible stories from his early teaching. While tending his flock, he may have been reminded of the story of the Good Shepherd.  He certainly had time to reflect on the teachings of Jesus. After six years of slavery, he recognised the fact that the Lord was calling him to do His work.  He escaped to France where he entered a monastery and was eventually ordained as a priest. 

 Cloisters in a Monastery

He realised his mission was to go back to Ireland whose people were steeped in paganism and to teach them how to live by the Gospel.  He was consecrated bishop and travelled back to convert the people who had originally enslaved him.  He travelled throughout the country with a large group of followers of people of all trades.  He was able to build churches, ordain priests and establish Christian communities throughout the land. 


Meanwhile in Britain, Roman rule had come to an end.  Pagan Anglo Saxon raiders had settled here and many of the native people (usually referred to as Ancient Britons) had fled to Cornwall, Wales, Scotland and Brittany.  Celtic Church existed mainly in Scotland, Ireland and Wales where monks established monasteries. They were united in their practices but were uncoordinated in organisation and had no centralised authority.


St. Benedict (480-550)

His RULE was written for the benefit of his monks (Benedictines) who lived in a community as opposed to the ancient hermits.  This consisted of a framework of prayer, worship and work. Today, monasteries such as Worth Abbey still follow this Rule.


Celtic Monasticism

This was established in Ireland and eventually spread to Britain, e.g. the island of Iona in Scotland was established as a monastic community by St. Columba in the sixth century while St. Cuthbert is closely connected to Lindisfarne in Northumbria.  This Celtic form of Christianity took on characteristics of its own although in communion with Rome as far as doctrine is concerned.



St. Augustine of Canterbury

 St. Augustine of Canterbury

This state of affairs continued until AD597 when St. Augustine of Canterbury, a Benedictine, (not to be confused with the theologian, St. Augustine of Hippo) arrived with forty monks having been sent by Pope Gregory to convert the Anglo-Saxons.  They landed on the Isle of Thanet in Kent and arranged a meeting with King Ethelbert who had married Bertha, a Frankish princess.  Part of the nuptial agreement was that she should be allowed to continue to practise her Christian faith.  Ethelbert allowed Augustine to preach and they were given the use of Queen Bertha’s church, St. Martin’s, which had been a building left by the Romans.  It is not certain what the Romans had used this building for, but there is some evidence that it may have been a chapel used by Christians.  (The remains are still to be seen.)  The Roman Church was gradually established, the King himself eventually being baptised.  We have this information, thanks to St. Bede (673-735) who wrote Ecclesiastical History of the English People.  A good website is:


The Roman Church and the Celtic Church existed side by side over several years, each celebrating Easter at a different time.  This issue was settled at the Synod of Whitby in AD 644 and gradually, the Roman Church became the dominant Church.


During Anglo Saxon, Viking and mediaeval times, the Church managed not only to survive but to grow.  Great monasteries were built and became religious centres in their areas.  Parish churches were built and religious festivals became part of the life of the people.


The Great Schism

Byzantium was the ancient Greek city named after King Byzas (now Istanbul in present day Turkey)  The Emperor Constantine decided to move there from Rome and regarded it as the new Rome.  Eventually, the city became known as Constantinople and was regarded as the capital of the eastern Roman Empire.  In the sixth century, the great church of the Holy Wisdom (Hagia Sophia) was built (now a mosque but still has Christian frescoes dating back to Byzantine times.)  In the early years, both the eastern and western churches were in union with each other regarding doctrine but  each developed their own style of liturgy.  Gradually this union became more fragile and the Othodox/Eastern church broke away from the Roman/Latin Church.  The Othodox disapproved of the insertion of the Filioque clause (and the Son) into the Creed.  This says that the Holy Spirit proceeds not only from the Father as stated in the original Creed but also from the Son.  This split is known as The Great Schism and was finalised in 1054.

 A Crusader


The Crusades

In 1076, the Muslims captured Jerusalem.  They considered the city important, especially the rock which is said to be where Abraham had prepared to offer Isaac, his son, in sacrifice.  This rock later became part of Solomen’s Temple and Mohammed had also been there.  (The mosque known as the Dome of the Rock is now on this site).  There were a series of Crusades lasting almost 200 years when European knights fought the Muslims (Saracens) in order to try to get back control of the Holy City.


Thomas À Becket

 Saint Thomas a Becket

He was born about 1118, well educated, good diplomat and in 1154, was ordained Deacon.  When Henry II became King, he chose Thomas as his Chancellor, the two men became great friends and Thomas’s life style was full of splendour and pomp. In 1161, Archbishop Theobald of Canterbury died and the King decided to make Thomas his successor. Thomas reluctantly accepted.  He was ordained priest on one day and then Archbishop the following day.  He then decided to take this appointment seriously and took to a life of prayer and penance.  The King tried to control the church in England and had expected Thomas’s help in the conflicts between church and state, but Thomas was on the side of the church. 


There were disputes concerning taxation, appeals to Rome and various court practices over which Thomas and the King did not see eye to eye.  Thomas ended up escaping to France in disguise where he remained for about six years. He was forced back in 1170 when the King made threats against Thomas’s family.  On 29th December while he was praying in Canterbury Cathedral, four knights stormed into the Cathedral thinking that they were doing what the King wished.  They stabbed Thomas, scattering his brains onto the floor.  There was a tremendous reaction to these events and before long, Canterbury became a place of pilgrimage with people coming from all over Europe.  The King did public penance at the tomb of the martyr and had himself scourged. Thomas was declared saint and martyr and canonised by the Pope just over two years after his martyrdom.  Although now owned by the Church of England, Canterbury Cathedral remains a focal point for all Christians as it is a memorial to St. Augustine who brought Christianity to England and also as it is the site of the martyrdom of the great saint, Thomas À Becket.


Today, the Archbishop of Canterbury is the spiritual leader of the Church of England, the Queen being the Head of that Church.



The Revival of Learning was a movement which developed throughout Europe towards the end of the fifteenth century. The Great Masters were responsible for wonderful works of art (e.g.Michaelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci) and new religious ideas sprung up which were not in keeping with the teaching of the Catholic Church.  This was the start of the Reformation when people on the continent like Martin Luther and John Calvin preached a new religion and broke away from the Catholic Church.


The Reformation in England under the Tudors  

 The Tudor Rose

 ( See

 King Henry VIII

Henry VII’s heir had been his eldest son, Arthur, who had entered into an arranged marriage with Catherine of Aragon in order to keep the peace between Spain and England.  Arthur died and the King persuaded his second son, Henry, to be betrothed to Catherine. She was 17 and young Henry was 12. As it was said that Arthur’s marriage had never been consummated, Henry was granted a dispensation by Pope Julius II to marry his sister-in-law.  He became King Henry VIII shortly before his eighteenth birthday and when he was 18, he gladly married the 23 year old Catherine. 


Henry was very religious, attending Mass daily, also an accomplished theologian who responded to Martin Luther’s attack on the Catholic Church by writing in 1521 Defence of the Seven Sacraments.  Pope Leo X was so impressed that he gave Henry the title Defender of the Faith.  The words Fid. Def. found on our coins is the abbreviation for the Latin Fidei Defenso.


Queen Catherine’s only child to survive into adulthood was a daughter, Mary, and Henry who desperately wanted a male heir, appealed to the Pope for an annulment on the grounds that she had been married his deceased brother.  He amassed what he thought to be a great deal of evidence to prove that his marriage to Catherine was null and void.  He quoted a passage from the Book of Leviticus:


'If a man shall take his brother's wife it is an unclean thing... they shall be childless.' (Leviticus, XX, 21)


This, of course, makes no mention of marriage and in any case, Catherine was no longer Arthur’s wife as Arthur was dead. Also this argument was contradicted by a text from Deuteronomy, which said it was a brother’s duty to marry his dead brother’s widow and raise children. (In those days, children were important for looking after you in your old age!)


Despite Cardinal Wolsey’s effort to persuade Pope Clement VII to declare the marriage invalid, which he refused to do, thus endorsing the dispensation that his predecessor had granted.   A political point to consider is that The Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V was Catherine’s nephew who may have had influence in making sure that his aunt’s marriage was still considered valid.  Another reason that Henry wanted an annulment was that he had fallen in love with Anne Boleyn who refused to be his mistress and was determined to marry the king!  This caused Henry to cut himself off from Rome and Thomas Cranmer granted Henry his annulment.   The Act of Supremacy was passed making Henry head of the Church of England.  It was the oath attached to this Act that Henry’s Chancellor, Thomas More refused to take.  Henry had him executed, so too the Bishop of Rochester, John Fisher.  Both were canonised as saints and martyrs in 1935.    

Henry married Anne Boleyn, their only surviving child being Elizabeth  Anne had failed to produce the desired son and  was beheaded after being found guilty of trumped up charges of adultery and incest with her brother.  Henry now saw himself free to marry a third wife, Jane Seymour, who produced a son, Edward, dying soon afterwards.


Under the influence of Thomas Cromwell who had come into office, there were discussions on what doctrine the new Church of England should teach.  This included breaking away from the doctrine of transubstantiation although eventually this idea was dropped from what was known as The Ten Articles, which Parliament passed in 1536, which stated among other things, that there were only three Sacraments – Baptism, Penance and Eucharist.  Cromwell also advocated married clergy, he himself having secretly married!  


The English Bible

The reformed religion put emphasis on Scripture, saying that the Bible was the only authority for Christians (sola scripture.)  The Catholic Church teaches that Scripture, Tradition (those things which are not actually recorded in the Bible) and the Magisterium (teaching authority of the Church) are all important.  They may be described as the legs of a three-legged stool – take one away, and the stool doesn’t stand up!  Because of the emphasis on Scripture alone, Cromwell ordered a Bible, now translated into English, to be placed in each parish church.  There was a restriction on who could read it and women could read it only in private!


Dissolution of the Monasteries.

Cromwell suggested to the King that it would crush Roman Catholic influence if he were to close the monasteries.  By this time, Henry had used up the vast sums in the treasury which his father, Henry VII had amassed, so he grasped the opportunity to replenish his wealth by seizing the buildings and land owned by the monastic orders.  The smaller monasteries were closed first, the monks and nuns being moved to the larger religious houses.  Later, the larger ones were closed. By 1540, all of these houses were closed.  Some of the religious took up jobs as tutors in the big houses while some returned to their families but many were left homeless and ended up roaming the countryside as vagrants.  Henry sold the buildings off cheaply to the nobility who often used the building materials to build grand new houses e.g Beaulieu and Woburn Abbey.


At this time, Henry also ordered the destruction of all the shrines in the country including that at Walsingham to the Blessed Virgin and also St. Thomas À Becket’s shrine at Canterbury. This of course was desecration, and often the bones of a saint were scattered never to be recovered.  Any jewels adorning the shrine were claimed by Henry.


The Six Articles

A year after the passing of the Ten Articles, Henry’s conscience caused him to retract this as he wished the country to remain true to Catholic doctrine even if he had broken away from the authority of Rome so in 1539, the Act of Six Articles was passed.  The following doctrines were to be strictly adhered to:-

  1. Transubstantiation
  2. Communion under one kind
  3. vows of chastity
  4. Private Masses
  5. Clerical celibacy
  6. Auricular confession

Anyone denying Transubstantiation was to be burnt as a heretic!


Before Henry died, he decreed that his three children would reign in turn: 

           1. Edward                                 2. Mary                                            3. Elizabeth


Counter Reformation

 St. Ignatius Loyola

This was a movement in the Catholic Church to try to bring about much needed reform within the Church, mostly associated with the order of priests founded by Ignatius Loyola, called the Society of Jesus or Jesuits.


Edward VI   1547-53

 King Edward VI

When Henry died, his son Edward came to the throne at the age of nine.  During his short reign, the country was ruled by, first the Duke of Somerset and then the Duke of Northumberland.  They were responsible for changes in religion in keeping with the Protestant reformers ideas on the continent.  The word ‘Protestant’ was used for the first time and Edward was brought up in the reformed ways.  The Mass was abolished, the altar being replaced by a simple communion table.  The Missal was replaced with Cranmer’s Book of Common Prayer and all decorative vestments and church furnishings were removed and priests were allowed to marry.


Mary Tudor    1553-58

(not to be confuse with Mary Queen of Scots)

 Mary Tudor

Mary had been declared illegitimate by her father when he had divorced her mother, Catherine of Aragon and lost the title of ‘Princess’.  She had been forced to act a maid to her half sister Elizabeth and had been forcibly separated from her mother whom she never saw again!  She had also seen the establishment of the Protestant religion during her brother’s reign.  Now that she was Queen, she was determined to bring the country back to the Catholic faith and re-established relations with Rome.  She forced her half sister, Elizabeth to conform to the Catholic faith and at one time, suspecting a plot, had Elizabeth confined to the Tower.


Unfortunately, Mary’s reign did not do much good for the Catholic Church!  She was so extreme that she has gone down in history as Bloody Mary.  She sent 300 Protestants including Cranmer to their death by being burnt at the stake, some in London, some in Oxford and some in Lewis, in Sussex.


She married Philip II of Spain but failed to produce an heir.


Elizabeth I 1558-1603

 Queen Elizabeth I

Now it was Elizabeth’s turn to change the religion of the country. Although she had been brought up as a Protestant, her ideas about church services were not as radical as those in Edward’s reign so she aimed at finding a middle way between Catholicism and the stark Protestantism.  But from the Catholic point of view this was still contrary to Church teaching especially as she did not believe in Transubstantiation. Elizabeth  decreed that the country should conform to her brand of religion and priests refusing to do so were executed.  The Catholic Church went underground and survived because of those who lived in the large houses owned by Catholics providing opportunities for Mass to be celebrated in secret.  Priests’ hiding holes can still be seen in these houses e.g. Baddesley Clinton in the Midlands and Coughton Court in Warwickshire, both now National Trust Properties.  The Throckmorton family still live in a section of Coughton Court and in 2009, celebrated six hundred years of belonging to the Catholic faith.  Those not conforming to the Church of England were known as recusants.


Elizabeth saw the Catholic Mary Queen of Scots as a danger as there were various plots to put her on the throne.  Protestantism had taken a hold in Scotland and Queen Mary lost her throne.  Elizabeth had her captured and Mary spent many years imprisoned in various castles in England.  She was eventually executed at Fotheringay Castle in 1587, aged 45 years old.


There were strict penalties for non attendance at the Protestant services at the parish church and those found harbouring priests faced the death penalty.  Nicholas Owen was a lay brother in the Society of Jesus (or Jesuits, founded by Ignatius Loyola as part of the Counter Reformation).  He was a skilled carpenter and constructed hiding holes in the big houses where priests could hide when a raid was taking place.  Not one priest was discovered in these hiding places.  Nicholas Owen was eventually captured and tortured horribly He died on the rack in the Tower of London.  He was canonised in 1970 and is included with the group of martyrs known as The Forty Martyrs.


Other Martyrs

St. Cuthbert Mayne, a priest in Devon, died in 1577.

St. Edmund Campion, English Jesuit, died in 1581.

St. Richard Gwyn, first of the Welsh martyrs, died 1584.

St. Margaret Clitherow, crushed to death in 1586.

St Philip Howard, eldest son of the fourth Duke of Norfolk (Arundel) died in the Tower in 1588.

   The following was inscribed on his cell wall in the Tower:


'The more affliction we endure for Christ in this world, the more glory we shall obtain with Christ in the next'.


 This is a translation of the original Latin cut by St Philip over the fireplace in the Beauchamp Tower, which visitors to the Tower of London can still see:


Quanto plus afflictionis pro Christo in hoc saeculo, tanto plus gloriae cum Christo in futuro. Arundell - 22 June 1587.


 King James I

Under the Stuarts.

James I 1603-25  (son of Mary Queen of Scots)

Both Catholics and Puritans persecuted in this reign.  Some extreme Catholic rebels were involved in the Gunpowder Plot in 1605, attempting to blow up the Houses of Parliament when the King was opening Parliament.  Most of them were related to the Throckmorton family (of Coughton Court in Warwickshire)


 King Charles I

Charles I 1625-49

He was a high Anglican married to Catholic French princess, Henrietta Maria.  Life still uncomfortable for Catholics and Puritans many of whom emigrated to America.  Conflict between King and Parliament resulting in Civil War and execution of Charles.


 Oliver Cromwell

Oliver Cromwell   1649-1658

Came to power after the Civil War.  Staunch Puritan who abolished the celebration of Christmas.  Ireland was under the control of England against their will, Cromwell becoming Lord Lieutenant, resulting in an uprising which Cromwell most cruelly suppressed.  Massacres of Drogheda and Wexford examples of extreme bloodshed.


 King Charles II

Charles II   1660-1685 Restoration of the Monarchy

After Cromwell’s death, his son Richard ruled for a short while but unsatisfactorily.  Eventually, Parliament invited Charles 1’s son to take the throne. This is known as the Restoration. The King had leanings towards Catholicism and tried to formalise tolerance towards both Catholics and Puritans but since the Civil War, Parliament exercised more power and were very much against any concessions to Catholics.


The Titus Oates Plot.  Titus Oates spread rumours that Catholics were planning a massacre of Protestants and were about to assassinate Charles II.  This caused many Catholics to be persecuted


Irish Catholics were still under attack form England and The Archbishop of Armagh, St. Oliver Plunkett was martyred at Tyburn.


 King James II

James II   1685-1689

Although he was a Catholic, he had little power to force the religion on the people.  Parliament ensured that Catholics were barred from high office and made sure that the King’s baby son would never succeed him by inviting William of Orange (from Holland) to come to England to be King.  He was married to the King’s Protestant daughter, Mary, who was also his first cousin.   King eventually deposed and William and Mary took the throne.


 William & Mary

William and Mary   1688-1702

The Declaration of Rights was passed in 1689 which included a clause that meant no Catholic could become monarch and nor anyone with a claim to the throne could marry a Catholic.


Throughout the following reigns

·         Catholics learnt to cope with loss of privilege and without proper churches.  The Jabobite Rebellions of 1715 and 1745 (Bonnie Prince Charlie) were unsuccessful attempts to restore the Catholic Stuarts to the English throne.

·         In 1778 The Catholic Relief Act allowed Catholics to own and inherit property and to join the army without taking the Oath of Allegiance.

·         The Act of Union of 1801 unified Ireland with Gt. Britain and the Irish mostly Catholic, were subject to the same anti-Catholic laws as the British.  This meant that they had no representation in a Protestant ‘foreign’ Parliament in London.  Most of the people were not even entitled to vote.

·         1829 Catholic Emancipation.  Some high offices were open to Catholics including becoming an M.P. The first English Catholic M.P was a member of the Throckmorton family from Coughton Court.  Catholic churches were allowed to be built, so long as they didn’t look like churches!

·         Gradually Catholics began to lead a fuller life in the community and Catholic schools could be built.

·         Restoration of the Catholic Hierarchy in 1850.  This meant that dioceses were formed and the Pope could appoint Bishops.

·         Today, according to the Act of Settlement of 1701, monarchs are still prohibited from being Catholic or marrying a Catholic.  So too those in line to the throne.

John Henry Newman  1811-1890

 John Henry Newman

He was an Anglican clergyman, a leading light in the Oxford Movement which brought beliefs closer to those of Catholicism.  He became vicar of St. Mary’s University Church in Oxford.  This parish included the village of Littlemore, about three miles south east of the city. The village had no church but Newman set about building one.  He converted to Catholicism in 1845.  Some of his thinking was ahead of its time and eventually influenced the thinking some of the ideas of the Second Vatican Council.  He was never a bishop but was made Cardinal by Pope Leo XIII in 1879. He was beatified on 19th September, 2010 by Pope Benedict XVI.


The First Vatican Council 1869-70   (See )

This was called by Pius XI in order to condemn contemporary error and to define Catholic doctrine concerning the Church of Christ. Just two documents were produced, one concerning each of these topics. The document on the Church of Christ included a statement declaring the Roman Pontiff infallible whenever he speaks EX CATHEDRA and defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole Church.


The Council was interrupted by the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war. It never resumed and has never officially been closed.


First Apostolic Delegate since the Reformation

 Cardinal Godfrey

William Godfrey was appointed to this post in 1938 which meant that diplomatic relations were restored between Rome and Britain.  He later became Archbishop of Liverpool in 1953, then Archbishop of Westminster in 1956. He became Cardinal in 1958


In 1950s and 60s, there was a surge of building of Catholic churches, especially in the big cities in the north of England where there were many Catholics, some descended from the old recusant families and many descended from Irish immigrants who had come to England at the time of the potato famine (1845-1851) and afterwards.


The Second Vatican Council  1962-65

This Council was called by Pope John XXIII and was closed by Pope Paul VI. In all it produced sixteen documents, each one dealing with a different aspect of church life.  See separate article entitled The Second Vatican Council  and


The Ecumenical Movement

In 1948, the World Council of Churches was founded but did not include any representatives from the Catholic Church.  It was not until after Vatican II when the Catholic Church issued a document on Christian unity and began to make it a priority, that Catholics became involved in the World Council of Churches. 


Similar national groups were formed in various countries including England, eventually calling themselves Churches Together In England.  Most towns have similar organisations which enable the various denominations to work together.

Churches Together in England:  

Churches Together in Britain & Ireland:


In 1960, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Geoffrey Fisher meets the Pope.

In 1962, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey, exchanges the kiss of peace with the Pope in the Sistine Chapel.

In 1982, Pope John Paul II visits England and meet the Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie at the tomb of St. Thomas À Becket


ARCIC – Anglican-Catholic International Commission

This was set up in 1970 to try to find some common ground between the Anglican and Catholic Churches.


Present Day

Today there is a much improved relationship among the various denominations. We all realise that in order to combat modern day secularism, we must stand up together as followers of Christ. Although the unity among us is imperfect, we recognise Christ as our Lord and Saviour and although we differ on some points of doctrine, we can at least say the Creed together.  (The word ‘catholic’ is usually written in this prayer with a small ‘c’ which refers to the universal Christian Church and not just to the Roman Catholic Church).  Incidentally, Catholics do not usually use the work ‘Roman’ any more as there are Eastern Catholics who are not Roman Catholics although in communion with Rome, but in ecumenical circles, where some Christians see themselves as catholic (belonging to the universal Christian Church), it is polite to refer to ourselves as Roman!


In 1995, Pope John Paul II wrote his encyclical Ut Unum Sint in which he reiterated the strong messages of Vatican II regarding Christian unity.  He stressed the importance of every Catholic working towards unity of all Christians, saying that this was not an optional extra.


Archbishop of Westminster

 Archbishop Vincent Nichols



On 21st May, 2009, Vincent Nichols was installed as the latest Archbishop of Westminster, replacing Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor. Although no longer Archbishop of Westminster, he remains a Cardinal for life.  (Before he went to Westminster, he was Bishop of Arundel and Brighton)



In 2010, Pope Benedict XVI came to Britain on the very first state visit of a Pope to our country. (Pope John Paul II had visited Britain in 1982 but this was a private visit). Among other things during his visit, Pope Benedict:

  • Met the Queen in Scotland at Holyrood.
  • Beatified Cardinal John Henry Newman in Coventry.
  • Gave a very moving address to politicians in Westminster Hall.
  • Met the Archbishop of Canterbury and joined him for Evensong in Westminster Abbey.

As a result of this visit, Pope Benedict invited the senior members of the Abbey choir to go to Rome and sing in the Sistine Chapel. Interestingly, while the seniors were in Rome, the junior boys were brought on a visit to English Martyrs Church, Goring-by-Sea in West Sussex, to see the reproduction of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling painted by Gary Bevans.


More useful websites