England

[England and Wales] Southern part of Great Britain; area, 50,874 square miles. Christianity was introduced into England by Saint Augustine of Canterbury in 597; it spread rapidly in southern Britain, and was brought to Northumbria by Paulinus. Felix, a Burgundian monk, converted East Anglia; and Birinus began in 634 the evangelization of Wessex. Saint Aidan, founder of the monastery of Lindisfarne, spread the Faith in the north; and from Lindisfarne came Saint Cedd and Saint Chad who labored as missionaries in Essex and Mercia, Saint Cuthbert who strengthened Christianity in the north, and Saint Wilfrid, who besides converting the South Saxons, reconciled the Christians of Northumberland to the Roman Easter and other institutions sanctioned by the Holy See. Monasteries were established and made famous by Caedmon, Bede, and Alcuin. During the Danish invasions in the 8th and 9th centuries, church and monastic property was destroyed and the work of evangelization was interrupted. Reorganization of the clergy and restoration of the damaged property were effected by Saint Dunstan, Archbishop of Canterbury, 960-988. Papal authority was recognized with increased respect during the Anglo-Saxon rule, and at the close of the period there were 17 bishoprics. The 10th century is marked by the great monastic reform of Cluny, and by the names of such saints as Ethelwold, Eric, and Dunstan. After the Norman Conquest in 1066, the Church was in complete submission to the papacy, and the State was the vassal of the Church. Saint Anselm fought against royal investiture and allowed himself to be banished rather than receive it from the king. In the reign of Henry II occurred the martyrdom of his archbishop, Thomas Becket, in 1170. Englishmen played their part in the Crusades, and among those who lost their lives for the cause was Baldwin, Archbishop of Canterbury. The disturbing force in the ecclesiastical life of England during the 14th century was the rise and spread of Lollardy. This affected a certain portion of the country, but even after the Wyclif movement the position of the Church remained as secure as ever.

The Protestant Reformation which reached, its climax in 1535, by the passing of the Act of Supremacy declaring the king Supreme Head of the Church of England, severed England from the unity of Christendom. While upholding Catholic doctrine in his own fashion, Henry VIII appropriated ecclesiastical property by the suppression of religious houses. After his death the direction of ecclesiastical affairs passed to Thomas Cranmer, who legalized the marriage of the clergy, advocated the substitution of tables for altars, and took part in the compilation of the second Prayer-book of Edward VI. Hope revived among Catholics on Mary's accession to the throne (1553), but her indefatigable zeal failed to undo the harm wrought by her predecessors. When Elizabeth succeeded her sister (1558) she revived all the Acts against the pope and passed the Act of Uniformity, ordering the use in churches of the second Prayer-book of Edward VI, and the attendance of the laity at the parish church for the new service. This was the definite establishment of the new religion in England. Thenceforth Catholic rites could be performed only in secret, and with severe punishment if discovered. In 1568 William Allen founded a seminary at Douai to perpetuate the Faith in England by training new priests and keeping up the spirits of the faithful. After 1570 when the pope deposed Elizabeth and released her Catholic subjects from their allegiance, the severity of the penal laws was increased. In four months in 1588, twenty-one priests, eleven laymen, and one woman were martyred for their faith, and during the remainder of Elizabeth's rule Catholics were incessantly persecuted. The ancient Catholic hierarchy ended in 1585 with the death of Thomas Goldwell, Bishop of Saint Asaph, but despite the cruelty of Elizabeth the clergy of the English missions continued their labors, and in 1598 Catholics were placed in charge of archpriests.

The persecuted Catholics looked hopefully to James I (1603) but he chose to follow the policy of Elizabeth. Under, him twenty priests and eight Catholic laymen suffered, but in the majority of instances he fined rather than tortured the Catholics. In 1623 William Bishop became Vicar Apostolic over all England. In the reign of Charles (1625-1649) punishment was suspended and the number of English Catholic clergy was considerably increased. When war broke out between Charles I and Parliament, Catholics supported the king unanimously. After their oppression during the Commonwealth, with the Restoration of Charles II in 1660 they looked forward to a recompense for their services, but the king, recognizing the strong anti-Catholic feeling throughout the nation, kept the penal laws on the statute book and at intervals issued proclamations banishing Jesuits and other priests from the kingdom. In 1679 eight Jesuits, two Franciscans, five secular priests, and seven laymen were put to death, and many more died in prison for their faith. The following year Lord Stafford was murdered, and in 1681 Blessed Oliver Plunket, Archbishop of Armagh, was executed at Tyburn. Under James II (1685-1688) Catholics were admitted to civil and military positions, members of religious orders wore their habits on the streets of London, a Jesuit school was opened, the Anglican clergy were forbidden to preach against popery, and Magdalen College was converted into a Catholic society. Pope Innocent XI in 1688 created the four districts or vicariates of London, Midland, Northern, and Western.

When William and Mary succeeded (1689), new penalties and disqualifications for Catholics were added. In 1778 the first Catholic Relief Act was passed, repealing the worst features of the statute of 1699, and defining a new oath of allegiance which a Catholic could take without denying his religion. A declaration was published in 1826 by all the Vicars Apostolic of England explaining various articles of the Catholic Faith; this helped to remove prejudice, and in 1829 the Emancipation Act became law. The Oxford Movement (1833-1845) brought many converts into the Catholic Church. In 1840 Pope Gregory XVI created the eight districts or vicariates of London, Western, Eastern, Central, Welsh, Lancashire, Yorkshire, and Northern. Pius IX restored the Catholic hierarchy in England in 1850, establishing Westminster as an archdiocese with fifteen suffragan sees. Cardinal Wiseman, Archbishop of Westminster, 1850-1865, organized the Catholic Church as it exists in England today. His successor, Cardinal Manning (1865-1892), placed the Catholics on an equal footing with their country-men, while Cardinal Newman put an end to the old error that a loyal Catholic cannot be a loyal Englishman and raised the Church to what had previously seemed an impossible rank in Protestant England. Since that time the position of the Church has been gradually strengthened. By letters Apostolic in 1911 Pope Pius X divided England and Wales into the three ecclesiastical provinces of Westminster, Birmingham, and Liverpool. On 17 February 1916, a fourth province, Cardiff, was added. Catholic societies and activities have expanded, the laity have demonstrated their interest in all Catholic affairs, and the Catholic population has increased enormously through natural causes and the continual influx of converts. The Catholic vote has grown, due to the extension of the franchise, particularly by the inclusion of women voters, and the social and political influence of Catholics has been extended owing to the increase of Catholic peers and Catholic secondary schools. The Catholic Relief Act of 1927 revoked various minor statutes and removed the tax on charitable bequests and endowments formerly required from Catholics. Owing to the writings of Hilaire Belloc and G. K. Chesterton, the attitude of the secular press toward the Catholic Church has changed to such a degree that Catholic events and ceremonies are now included in the daily news.

Ecclesiastically the country is governed by the archdioceses of and the dioceses of See also Place-names of Catholic interest in England include
New Catholic Dictionary

NCD Index SQPN Contact Author