A Brief History of the Church of England


Christianity, brought by the Romans, was established in Britain by the 4th century.  The first member of the British Church whom we know by name was St Alban.  Tradition has it that he was martyred for his faith on the spot where St Albans Abbey now stands. 

The British Church was a missionary Church, but it was nearly destroyed by invasions of pagan Anglo-Saxons beginning in the 5th century.  A mission (sent by Pope Gregory the Great and led by St. Augustine of Canterbury) began, in 597 AD, the re-conversion of England and the re-establishment of its ties to the Papacy.  The Church of England, as it later became, is the amalgam of three strands - the Roman tradition of St Augustine and his successors, the remains of the Romano-British Church and the Celtic following.  These streams converged and the result was a Church, led by the Archbishops of Canterbury, and York, that played a full part in Western Christianity.  Amongst other things, this meant that, until the Reformation, the Church accepted the authority of the Pope.  

Conflicts between church and state during the Middle Ages culminated with King Henry VIII's break with Rome.  The Pope's refusal to annul Henry's marriage to Catherine of Aragon led Henry to issue the Act of Supremacy (in 1534), which declared the King to be the head of the Church of England.  Henry suppressed the monasteries and authorized the Great Bible (in 1539).  Under Archbishop Cranmer the First Book Of Common Prayer was produced and adopted (in1549).  Queen Mary I returned the English church to communion with Rome, but with the accession of Queen Elizabeth I, an independent church was restored and steered along a middle ground between Roman Catholicism and Calvinism. 

During the English Civil War the Long Parliament established (in 1646) Presbytariasm, but with the Restoration (in 1660), the episcopacy was restored and the Prayer Book was made the only legal service book by the Act of Uniformity (1662). 

Since the 18th Century, the Church has included three main traditions, the Evangelical, the Catholic and the Liberal.  Also, from the 1960's, the Charismatic element has become increasingly important.

Women were admitted to the diaconate in 1981 and to the priesthood in 1994.

To find out more about the Church of England, visit the official website here.  Don't forget to finish your visit to this website though!