[Bell Historians] What'as in a name?

David Bryant davidbryant at ...
Tue Jul 19 13:53:33 BST 2005

>What is a Minster anyway and what makes it different to a Cathedral
>or Parish Church?

It is an imprecise term, but generally means an ancient missionary centre of 
Anglo-Saxon origin. Minsters existed before the parochial system (which many 
consider a Norman creation, although it may have earlier roots) came into 
being and were responsible for missionary activities over a wide area. Often 
they would have subsidiary chapels located in other parts of the area which 
they covered - in many ways, a forerunner of the diocesan / parochial system 
of today and indeed some Minsters, such as York and Lincoln did go on to 
become cathedrals. This is rather a simplistic explanation - Minsters belong 
to the time before an organised system of religious provision developed in 
this country.

A cathedral does have a concrete definition - it is the seat of a Bishop, 
and contains his throne (the Cathedra). Even where diocese have two place 
names in their title (more anciently, Bath and Wells; more recently, Ripon 
and Leeds and now Southwell and Nottingham) there is only one cathedral. The 
former of these has its name because of movements of the seat of the bishop, 
and the latter two because the second name is the main centre of population 
in the diocese although it does not contain the cathedral. A Parish Church, 
as I'm sure everyone is aware, is a church responsible for a distinct 
geographical area (its parish). The country is divided up into parishes, 
which are then grouped into dioceses. There are 42 English dioceses, and 
these are grouped into the Southern Province (centred on Canterbury), and 
the Nothern Province (centred on York). For this reason, the cathedrals at 
each of these places have the title 'Metropolitical Church' (York Minster's 
official title is 'The Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of St Peter'). 
They also have an Archbishop rather than a Bishop.

I'm sure DLC, as the resident cleric on this list, can provide a better 
explanation that this.

Anyway, I'd better do some work...



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