Archbishop of Canterbury

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The Archbishop of Canterbury is the primate of the Church of England and the spiritual head of the Anglican Communion. His see is at Canterbury Cathedral in Kent, England and his residence is Lambeth Palace in London. The current Archbishop of Canterbury is the Right Honorable and Most Reverend Rowan Williams, 104th successor to the Chair of St. Augustine of Canterbury.

The current archbishop

Rowan Douglas Williams was born in Wales on June 14, 1950. He studied theology at Christ's College of Cambridge University where he doctoral work on the Russian Orthodox Church and particularly the thought of Vladimir Lossky. For some years he was a professor of theology at Oxford University. In 1992 he was elevated to Anglican Bishop of Monmouth, and then in 2000 he was made Anglican Archbishop of Wales. In 2002 he was elevated to the throne of St. Augustine.

A prolific writer, Dr. Williams has published books in theology, spirituality, Christian history and poetry. Of particular interest to Orthodox Christians might be two books of meditations on icons, entitled The Dwelling of the Light: Praying With Icons of Christ (ISBN 0802827780) and Ponder These Things: Praying With Icons of the Virgin (ISBN 1580511244). He is also the editor of the book Sergii Bulgakov: Towards a Russian Political Theology (ISBN 056708650X).


Christianity reached England by the middle of the second century. As St. Bede relates in his Ecclesiastical History of the English People, in 156 a British King by the name of Lucius wrote to Eleutherus, bishop of Rome, asking to be made a Christian. (Bk 1, Chap 4) With the work of missionaries throughout the first few centuries AD, Christianity spread and took root.

In 596 Pope Gregory the Great decided to send a mission to the Anglo-Saxons in the British Isles. He chose a to send a group of Benedictine monks, under the leadership of St. Augustine of Canterbury (not to be confused with Augustine of Hippo). Augustine and his fellow monks arrived in Kent in 597 and eventually a see city was set up in Canterbury, Augustine being the first Archbishop. It is said that that when they arrived they were "carrying a silver cross and an image of Jesus Christ painted on a board, which thus became, so far as we know, 'Canterbury's first icon.'" (Lesser Feasts and Fasts, p. 252)

With Augustine and those who came after him, the British Isles were slowly put under the authority of the Church of Rome. As with the rest of the Western Church, this authority increased over the next 500 years.

Up until the time of the Anglican Reformation, the Archbishop of Canterbury was an appointee of the Bishop of Rome. Thus, at the time of the Great Schism the Church in England went along with the Western side of the break, accepting Papal supremacy and the Filioque.

In the 16th century, England, influenced both by political factors and the Continental Reformation, broke away from Rome and became an independent Church. Thus, the list of successive Archbishops of Canterbury, can be categorized according to three groups: Orthodox Archbishops, Roman Catholic Archbishops and Reformation Archbishops (see below).

Archbishops of Canterbury throughout history

Orthodox Archbishops of Canterbury

Roman Catholic Archbishops of Canterbury

  • 1070 Lanfranc
  • 1093 Anselm
  • 1114 Ralph d'Escures
  • 1123 William de Corbeil
  • 1139 Theobald
  • 1162 Thomas a Becket
  • 1174 Richard of Dover
  • 1184 Baldwin
  • 1193 Hubert Walter
  • 1207 Stephen Langton
  • 1229 Richard le Grant
  • 1234 Edmund of Abingdon
  • 1245 Boniface of Savoy
  • 1273 Robert Kilwardby
  • 1279 John Peckham
  • 1294 Robert Winchelsey
  • 1313 Walter Reynolds
  • 1328 Simon Meopham
  • 1333 John de Stratford
  • 1349 Simon Islip
  • 1349 Thomas Bradwardine
  • 1366 Simon Langham
  • 1368 William Whittlesey
  • 1375 Simon Sudbury
  • 1381 William Courtenay
  • 1396 Thomas Arundel
  • 1398 Roger Walden
  • 1399 Thomas Arundel (restored)
  • 1414 Henry Chichele
  • 1443 John Stafford
  • 1452 John Kempe
  • 1454 Thomas Bourchier
  • 1486 John Morton
  • 1501 Henry Deane
  • 1503 William Warham

Post-Reformation Archbishops of Canterbury

  • 1533 Thomas Cranmer
  • 1556 Reginald Pole
  • 1559 Matthew Parker
  • 1576 Edmund Grindal
  • 1583 John Whitgift
  • 1604 Richard Bancroft
  • 1611 George Abbot
  • 1633 William Laud
  • 1660 William Juxon
  • 1663 Gilbert Sheldon
  • 1678 William Sancroft
  • 1691 John Tillotson
  • 1695 Thomas Tenison
  • 1716 William Wake
  • 1737 John Potter
  • 1747 Thomas Herring
  • 1757 Matthew Hutton
  • 1758 Thomas Secker
  • 1768 Frederick Cornwallis
  • 1783 John Moore
  • 1805 Charles Manners-Sutton
  • 1828 William Howley
  • 1848 John Bird Sumner
  • 1862 Charles Thomas Longley
  • 1868 Archibald Campbell Tait
  • 1883 Edward White Benson
  • 1896 Frederick Temple
  • 1903 Randall Thomas Davidson
  • 1928 William Cosmo Gordon Lang
  • 1942 William Temple
  • 1945 Geoffrey Francis Fisher
  • 1961 Arthur Michael Ramsey
  • 1974 Frederick Donald Coggan
  • 1980 Robert Alexander Kennedy Runcie
  • 1991 George Leonard Carey
  • 2002 Rowan Douglas Williams

External link