Religion in England

Religion in England
St Paul's Cathedral, seat of the (Anglican) Bishop of London.

Christianity is the most widely practiced and declared religion in England. The Anglican Church of England is the established church of England holding a special constitutional position for the United Kingdom. After Christianity, religions with the most adherents are Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, Judaism, Buddhism, the Bahá'í Faith, the Rastafari movement and Neopaganism. There are also organisations which promote irreligion, atheist humanism, and secularism.

In the past, various other religions (usually "pagan") have been important in the country, particularly Celtic polytheism, Roman polytheism, Anglo-Saxon paganism and Norse paganism. The only religion that was created in England is the neopagan Wicca.[1]

Many of England's most notable buildings and monuments are religious in nature, including Stonehenge, the Angel of the North, Westminster Abbey, St Paul's Cathedral and Canterbury Cathedral. The festivals of Christmas and Easter are still widely commemorated in the country.



Christian denominations in the UK v · UK Interchurch

Christianity was first introduced through the Romans (English mythology links the introduction of Christianity to England to the Glastonbury legend of Joseph of Arimathea; see also the legend of Saint Lucius). Archaeological evidence for Christian communities begins to appear in the 3rd and 4th centuries. The Romano-British population after the withdrawal of the Roman legions was mostly Christian.

The Durham Gospels is a Gospel Book produced in Lindisfarne

The arrival of the Anglo-Saxons introduced Anglo-Saxon polytheism to what is now England.

Christianity was re-introduced into England through missionaries from Scotland and from Continental Europe; the era of St. Augustine (the first Archbishop of Canterbury) and the Celtic Christian missionaries in the north (notably St. Aidan and St. Cuthbert). The Synod of Whitby in 664 ultimately led to the English Church being fully part of Roman Catholicism. Early English Christian documents surviving from this time include the 7th-century illuminated Lindisfarne Gospels and the historical accounts written by the Venerable Bede.

Norman nobles and bishops had influence before the Norman Conquest of 1066, and Norman influences affected late Anglo-Saxon architecture. Edward the Confessor was brought up in Normandy, and in 1042 brought masons to work on Westminster Abbey, the first Romanesque building in England. The cruciform churches of Norman architecture often had deep chancels and a square crossing tower which has remained a feature of English ecclesiastical architecture. Hundreds of parish churches were built and the first great English cathedrals. England has many early cathedrals, most notably York Minster (1080), Durham Cathedral (1093) and Salisbury Cathedral (1220). After a fire damaged Canterbury Cathedral in 1174 Norman masons introduced the new Gothic architecture. Around 1191 Wells Cathedral and Lincoln Cathedral brought in the English Gothic style.

Stained glass from Rochester Cathedral in Kent, England, incorporating the Flag of England

Pope Innocent III placed the kingdom of England under an interdict for seven years between 1208 and 1215 after King John refused to accept the pope's appointee as Archbishop of Canterbury.


In 1536, the Church in England split from Rome over the issue of the divorce of King Henry VIII from Catherine of Aragon. The split led to the emergence of a separate ecclesiastical authority. Later the influence of the Reformation resulted in the Church of England adopting its distinctive reformed Catholic position known as Anglicanism. For more detail of this period see the following articles:

  • Timeline of the English Reformation
  • Act of Supremacy (1534): declared that Henry VIII was 'the only supreme head on earth of the Church in England' and required the nobility to swear an oath recognising Henry's supremacy.
  • Six Articles (1539): although the organisation of the church in England was reformed, the articles reaffirmed Catholic doctrine.
  • Book of Common Prayer and Book of Common Order
  • Prayer Book Rebellion
  • Marian Persecutions and Marian exiles: during the re-establishment of Roman Catholicism in England under Mary I, some Protestants were persecuted and some upheld their faith in exile.
  • Elizabethan Religious Settlement: under Elizabeth I political and religious stability was maintained by means of a compromise in both doctrine and practice between the Anglicanism of Henry VIII and that of Edward VI
  • Priest hole: wealthy Roman Catholics constructed hiding places in their houses for priests.
  • James I of England and religious issues
    • Gunpowder Plot: in 1605 an attempt to assassinate King James VI and I and the Protestant establishment entrenched anti-Catholic sentiment.
  • The Vicar of Bray: the changes of political and religious régime required office holders to show flexibility in their declared convictions, as satirised in the popular song The Vicar of Bray.
  • Westminster Assembly (1643): appointed by the Long Parliament to restructure the Church of England, drew up the Westminster Confession of Faith (which became, and remains, the 'subordinate standard' of doctrine in the Church of Scotland and has been influential within Presbyterian churches worldwide.)
  • 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith: written by Calvinistic Baptists in England to give a formal expression of the Reformed and Protestant Christian faith with an obvious Baptist perspective.
  • Royal Declaration of Indulgence (1672): Charles II attempted to extend religious liberty to Protestant nonconformists in his realms.
  • Declaration of Indulgence (1687–1688): James II attempted to establish freedom of religion in England.
    • Seven Bishops: bishops of the Church of England who petitioned James II against the Declaration of Indulgence were imprisoned.
  • Popish Plot (1678–1681): a conspiracy to discredit Catholics in England accused Catholics of plotting.
  • Exclusion Bill: sought to exclude the Charles II's brother and heir presumptive, James, Duke of York, from the throne of England because he was Catholic.
  • Penal law: a specific series of laws that sought to uphold the establishment of the Church of England against Protestant nonconformists and Roman Catholics, by imposing various forfeitures, civil penalties, and civil disabilities upon these dissenters.
    • Test Act: required a religious test of officials to ensure conformity with the established church.
    • Act of Uniformity 1662: required the use of all the rites and ceremonies in the Book of Common Prayer in Church of England services, and episcopal ordination for all ministers.
    • Conventicle Act 1664: forbade religious assemblies of more than five people outside the auspices of the Church of England.
    • Five Mile Act 1665: forbade clergymen from living within five miles (8 km) of a parish from which they had been banned
  • Nonjuring schism: the Anglican Church split in the aftermath of the Glorious Revolution of 1688, over whether William of Orange could legally be recognized as King of England.

Today, the Church of England is the established church in England. It regards itself as in continuity with the pre-Reformation state Catholic church,(something the Roman Catholic Church does not accept), but has been a distinct Anglican church since the settlement under Elizabeth I (with some disruption during the 17th-century Commonwealth period). British Monarch is formally Supreme Governor of the Church of England, but its spiritual leader is the Archbishop of Canterbury, who is regarded by convention as the head of the worldwide communion of Anglican Churches (see Anglican Communion). In practice the Church of England is governed by the General Synod, under the authority of Parliament.

Roman Catholicism

The English Church was heavily influenced by Rome from the arrival of St Augustine of Canterbury who arrived in AD 588, until the final break with Roman control at the accession of Queen Elizabeth I in 1558.

The early years of the UK were difficult for English adherents of the Roman Catholic Church, although the persecution was not violent as they had experienced in the recent past, for instance under the Popery Act 1698, that affected adherents in England and Wales. The civil rights of adherents to Roman Catholicism were severely curtailed, and there was no longer, as once in Stuart times, any Catholic presence at court, in public life, in the military or professions. Many of the Catholic nobles and gentry who had preserved on their lands among their tenants small pockets of Catholicism had followed James II into exile, and others at last conformed to Anglicanism, meaning that only very few such Catholic communities survived.

In the late 18th and early 19th century most restrictions on Catholic participation in public life were relaxed under acts such as the Papists Act 1778, Roman Catholic Relief Act 1791 and Catholic Relief Act 1829. This process of Catholic Emancipation met violent opposition in the Gordon Riots of 1780 in London. In the 1840s and 1850s, especially during the Great Irish Famine, while the bulk of the large outflow of emigration from Ireland was headed to the United States, thousands of poor Irish people also moved to England, establishing communities in cities and towns up and down the country such as London and Liverpool, thus giving Catholicism a huge numerical boost. In 1850, the Catholic Church in England and Wales re-established a hierarchy.

Recently, the rights of Catholics were restored even further with the allowing of the spouses of Royals to be Catholic.[2] Daniel O'Connell was the first Catholic member of Parliament[3]. Since then, there have been several Catholic Members of Parliament.


A strong tradition of Methodism developed from the 18th century onwards. The Methodist revival was started in England by a group of men including John Wesley and his younger brother Charles as a movement within the Church of England, but developed as a separate denomination after John Wesley's death.


Pentecostal churches are continuing to grow and, in terms of church attendance, are now third after the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church.[4] There are three main denomination of Pentecostal churches;

The is also a growing number of independent, charismatic churches that encourage Pentecostal practices at part of their worship, such as Kingsgate Community Church in Peterborough which started with 9 people in 1988 and now has a congregation in excess of 1,500.

Salvation Army

The Salvation Army dates back to 1865, when it was founded in East London by William and Catherine Booth. Its international headquarters are still in London, near St Paul's Cathedral.

Eastern Orthodox Churches

Construction of the Cathedral of the Dormition of the Most-Holy Mother of God and the Holy Royal Martyrs (Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia), in Gunnersbury, commenced in 1997 in traditional Russian architectural style.

Russian Orthodox Church

There are various Russian Orthodox groups in England. In 1962, Metropolitan Anthony (Bloom) of Sourozh founded and was for many years bishop, archbishop then metropolitan bishop of the diocese of the Russian Orthodox Diocese of Sourozh, the Russian Orthodox Moscow Patriarchate's diocese for Great Britain and Ireland.[5] It is the most numerous Russian Orthodox group in the country. There are also the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia churches as well as some churches and communities belonging to the Patriarchal Exarchate for Orthodox Parishes of Russian Tradition in Western Europe's Episcopal Vicariate in the UK.

Greek Orthodox Church

Most Greek Orthodox Church parishes fall under the jurisdiction of the Archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain, based in London and led by His Eminence Gregorios,[6] the Archbishop of Thyateira and Great Britain. Created in 1932, it is the diocese of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople that covers England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland as well as Malta. A Greek Orthodox community already existed at the time the UK was formed, worshipping in the Imperial Russian Embassy in London. However, it was another 130 years until an autonomous community was set up in Finsbury Park in London, in 1837. The first new church was built in 1850, on London Street in the City. In 1882, St Sophia Cathedral was constructed in London, in order to cope with the growing influx of Orthodox immigrants. By the outbreak of World War I, there were large Orthodox communities in London, Manchester and Liverpool, each focused on its own church. World War II and its aftermath also saw a large expansion amongst the Orthodox Communities.

Today, there are seven churches bearing the title of Cathedral in London as well as in Birmingham (the Dormition of the Mother of God and St Andrew) and Leicester. In addition to these, there are eighty-one churches and other places where worship is regularly offered, twenty-five places (including University Chaplaincies) where the Divine Liturgy is celebrated on a less regular basis, four chapels (including that of the Archdiocese), and two monasteries.[7] As is traditional within the Orthodox Church, the bishops have a considerable degree of autonomy within the Archdiocese.

The Greek Orthodox Church of St Nicholas in Toxteth, Liverpool, was built in 1870. It is an enlarged version of St Theodore's church in Constantinople and is a Grade II Listed building.

Antiochian Orthodox Church

The Antiochian Orthodox Church have the St. George's Cathedral in London and a number of parishes across England.[8]

Other Eastern Orthodox Churches

As well as the Russian and Greek Orthodox churches, there are also the Serbian Orthodox Church and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church[disambiguation needed ] all in London as well as a non-canonical Belarusian Autocephalous Orthodox Church in Manchester.

Oriental Orthodoxy

All Coptic Orthodox parishes fall under the jurisdiction of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria Pope of Alexandria. The Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom is divided into three main parishes: Ireland, Scotland and North England; the Midlands and its affiliated areas; and South Wales. In addition, there is one Patriarchal Exarchate at Stevenage, Hertfordshire. Most British converts belong to the British Orthodox Church, which is canonically part of the Coptic Orthodox Church. There is also the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church and the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church in London. There is also the Armenian Apostolic Church in London.


There is one Mennonite congregation in England, the Wood Green Mennonite Church in London.[9]


Countess of Huntingdon's Connexion

Countess of Huntingdon's Connexion is a small society of evangelical churches, founded in 1783, which today has 23 congregations in England.

Latter-day Saints (Mormon)

England has had a rich history of conversion into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints beginning back around 1837 with many thousands of converts. After a long period of emigration to the United States lasting until 1890, the growth of the Church slowed, not picking up again until after the World War II.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints membership statistics from 2009 show a total of 142,418 baptised members (.27% of the population) found within 264 congregations, including 227 wards, 37 branches, 36 stakes, 5 missions, and 2 temples, with one located in London, and the other near Preston, Lancashire.


Saint George is recognised as the patron saint of England, although prior to Edward III, St Edmund was recognised as England's patron saint, and the flag of England consists of the cross of St George. However, Saint Alban is venerated by some as England's first Christian martyr.


Muslim population in English local authority areas.
London Central Mosque in Regents Park, London.

According to the 2001 census, 1.54 million Muslims live in England and Wales, where they form 3.3% of the population. According to research by The Times, there were 2.4 million Muslims in the United Kingdom as a whole in 2009. Although Islam is generally thought of as being a recent arrival to the country, there has been contact with Muslims for many centuries. An early example would be the decision of Offa, the eighth-century King of Mercia (one of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms existing at that time), to have coins minted with an Islamic inscription on them—copies of coins issued by the near-contemporary Muslim ruler Al-Mansur. It is thought that they were minted to facilitate trade with the expanding Islamic empire in Spain.[11]

Muslim scholarship was well-known among the learned in England by 1386, when Chaucer was writing. In the Prologue to the Canterbury Tales, there is among the pilgrims wending their way to Canterbury, a 'Doctour of Phisyk' whose learning included Razi, Avicenna (Ibn Sina, Arabic ابن سينا) and Averroes (Ibn Rushd, Arabic ابن رشد). Ibn Sina's canon of medicine was a standard text for medical students well into the 17th century.

Islam today is the largest non-Christian religion in England with 40% of Muslims living in London, where they make up 8.5% of the population. There are also large numbers of Muslims in Birmingham, Manchester, Bradford, Luton, Slough, Leicester and the mill towns of Northern England.

The local authorities with a Muslim population greater than 10% are:

Notable mosques include the London Central Mosque, Al-Rahma mosque, Birmingham Central Mosque, East London Mosque, Finsbury Park Mosque, Al Mahdi Mosque, London Markaz and Markazi mosque.


Until the 20th century, Judaism was the only noticeable non-Christian religion having first appeared in historical records during the Norman Conquest of 1066. In fact, from 1290 to 1656, Judaism did not officially exist in England due to an outright expulsion in 1290 and official restrictions that were not lifted until 1656 (though historical records show that some Jews did come back to England during the early part of the 17th century prior to the lifting of the restriction). Now, the presence of the Jewish culture and Jews in England today is one of the largest in the world.


Early Hindus in England were mostly students during the 19th century. There have been three waves of migration of Hindus to England since then.

Before India's Independence in 1947, Hindu migration was minuscule and largely temporary. The second wave of Hindu migration occurred in the 1970s after the expulsion of Gujarati Hindus from Uganda. Initially, Hindu immigration was limited to Punjabi and Gujarati Hindus, but, by 2000, small Hindu communities of every ethnicity could be found in England. England is also host to a large immigrant community of Sri Lankan Hindus who are mostly Tamils. The last wave of migration of Hindus has been taking place since the 1990s with refugees from Sri Lanka and professionals from India. However,there is becoming an increasing number of English Western Hindus in England,who have either converted from another faith or been an English Hindu from birth.


The first Sikh Gurdwara (temple) was not established until 1911, at Putney in London.

The first Sikh migration came in the 1950s. It was mostly of men from the Punjab seeking work in industries like foundries and textiles. These new arrivals mostly settled in London, Birmingham and West Yorkshire. Thousands of Sikhs from East Africa soon followed, this mass immigration was caused by Idi Amin's persecution of ethnic groups in Uganda, thousands forced to flee the region in fear of losing their lives.[citation needed]


The earliest Buddhist influence on England came through the UK's imperial connections with South East Asia, and as a result the early connections were with the Theravada traditions of Burma, Thailand, and Sri Lanka. The tradition of study resulted in the foundation of the Pali Text Society, which undertook the task of translating the Pali Canon of Buddhist texts into English.

In 1924 London's Buddhist Society was founded, and in 1926 the Theravadin London Buddhist Vihara. The rate of growth was slow but steady through the century, and the 1950s saw the development of interest in Zen Buddhism.

Bahá'í Faith

The Bahá'í Faith started with the earliest mentions of the predecessor of the Bahá'í Faith, the Báb, in The Times on 1 November 1845, only a little over a year after the Báb first stated his mission.[12] Today there are Bahá'í communities across the country from Carlisle[13] to Cornwall.[14]

Formerly major in England

These faiths, all of which are considered to be pagan, have all been predominant in the regions that later made up England, though were all made extinct through Christianisation.[citation needed]

Celtic polytheism

During the Iron Age, Celtic polytheism was the predominant religion in the area now known as England.

Roman polytheism

Roman polytheism was introduced to England when the Roman Empire invaded and occupied the area. The druids, the Celtic priestly caste who were believed to originate in Britain,[15] were outlawed by Claudius,[16] and in 61 they vainly defended their sacred groves from destruction by the Romans on the island of Mona (Anglesey).[17] However, under Roman rule the Britons continued to worship native Celtic deities, such as Ancasta, but often conflated with their Roman equivalents, like Mars Rigonemetos at Nettleham.

It is difficult to gauge precisely to what extent earlier native beliefs survived. Certain northern European ritual traits remain in archaeological records, such as the significance of the number 3, the importance of the head and of water sources such as springs. However, the differences in the votive offerings made at Bath before and after the Roman conquest suggest there was only partial continuity[citation needed]. Worship of the Emperor is widely recorded, especially at military sites[citation needed]. The founding of a temple to Claudius at Camulodunum was one of the impositions that led to the revolt of Boudica.

Eastern cults such as Mithraism also grew in popularity towards the end of the occupation. The Temple of Mithras is one example of the popularity of mystery religions amongst the rich urban classes.

Germanic paganism

In the Dark Ages, immigrants from the European continent arrived, bringing Anglo-Saxon paganism, a subset of Germanic paganism with them. Later, after most of the Anglo-Saxon peoples had converted to Christianity, Vikings from Scandinavia arrived, bringing with them Norse paganism.

Notable places of worship

The varied religious and ethnic history of England has left a wide range of religious buildings - churches, cathedrals, chapels, chapels of ease, synagogues, mosques and temples. Besides its spiritual importance, the religious architecture includes buildings of importance to the tourism industry and local pride. As a result of the Reformation, the ancient cathedrals remained in the possession of the then-established churches, while most Roman Catholic churches date from Victorian times or are of more recent construction (curiously, in Liverpool the ultra-modern design Roman Catholic cathedral was actually completed before the more traditional design of the Anglican cathedral, whose construction took most of the twentieth century). Notable places of worship include:

See also

External links


  1. ^ The Triumph of the Moon - A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft, Ronald Hutton
  2. ^
  3. ^ Bishop, Erin I. 'My Darling Danny': Letters from Mary O'Connell to Her Son Daniel, 1830-1832. Cork: Cork University Press, 1998
  4. ^ 'Fringe' Church winning the believers Timesonline, 19 December 2006
  5. ^ "Welcome". Russian Orthodox Diocese of Sourozh. Archived from the original on 23 June 2008. Retrieved 2008-09-05. 
  6. ^ "Current Hierarchs of the Archdiocese of Great Britain". Orthodox Research Institute. 2008. Retrieved 2008-09-05. 
  7. ^ Archbishop Gregorios of Thyateira & Great Britain (2000-04-21). "The Archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain and Orthodoxy in the British Isles". Archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain. Retrieved 2008-09-05. 
  8. ^ "Parishes, Missions and Clergy". Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch Deanery of the United Kingdom and Ireland. 2008. Retrieved 2008-09-05. 
  9. ^ "Who are the Mennonites?". London Mennonite Centre. Retrieved 2008-09-05. [dead link]
  10. ^ Largest Mosque in western Europe
  11. ^ Gold imitation dinar of Offa, British Museum
  12. ^ Bahá'í Information Office (United Kingdom) (1989). "First Public Mentions of the Bahá'í Faith". Retrieved 2008-02-18. 
  13. ^ The Bahá'í Faith in Cumbria accessed 6 January 2009
  14. ^ Welcome to the Bahá'ís of Cornwall website of Cornish Bahais, accessed. 6 January 2009
  15. ^ Julius Caesar, Commentarii de Bello Gallico 6.13
  16. ^ Suetonius, Claudius 12.5
  17. ^ Tacitus, Annals 14.30

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