Minsters and Cathedrals

Southwell Minster Chapter is currently reviewing its name “[i]n response to its status and a shift nationally as to what cathedrals are called”. In the introduction to a survey launched on 7 December 2020*, the Dean of Southwell, the Very Rev Nicola Sullivan, said:

“We need your help in potentially selecting a new name for Southwell Minster…the word Minster is not a particularly familiar word with many people across the UK and overseas. We are a Cathedral (1 of just 42 in the country), which is a much wider known and recognizable term which in turn would hopefully lead to an increase in both worshipers and visitors”.

Minsters, Cathedrals and Churches

When the former Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, visited Hull on 7 November 2016, he announced that Hull Holy Trinity church would be re-dedicated as a Minster. We noted that to many Anglicans as well as non-Anglicans, the “Minster” designation was confusing, since it is applied to a range of buildings from some of smallest places of worship, such as St Gregory’s Minster, Kirkdale, N Yorks, (photo inset) to York Minster, the largest Gothic cathedral in northern Europe, (photo below). We therefore attempted to outline the legal distinctions between the designation of Church of England churches in our post Churches, Minsters and Cathedrals. Briefly,

“a parish church with the “Minster” designation is considered in law no differently from any other parish church unless it is also a cathedral, such as York Minster or  Southwell Minster; it then falls within the legislative regime relating to cathedrals. The same reasoning applies to the designations Abbey, Priory, Collegiate church and Pro-Cathedral”.

With regard to Southwell Minster, it is listed in A Church Near You as:

“The Cathedral and Parish Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary is popularly known, as it has been for centuries, as ‘Southwell Minster’. Although Christian worship has taken place on this site for over 1000 years, the present Romanesque building celebrated its commencement, 900 years ago, in 2008. Southwell Minster became the Cathedral Church of the Diocese in 1884. As the Cathedral Church of Nottinghamshire it seeks to serve diverse communities…”


There appears to have been a change of thinking at the Minister; on 27 November 2014, the then Canon Chancellor, Nigel Coates, said: [emphasis added]

“Southwell minster made no choice to re brand itself as a Cathedral. It was made so in 1884 and has no authority to change that! In the last decade The diocese chose to be renamed as that of Southwell and Nottingham rather than Southwell and the minster remains the Cathedral church. We are entirely at ease with keeping a longstanding title of minster believing…it underlies our calling to be outward looking and to serve our local communities as well as our wider diocese and some 80,000 visitors a year.”

Whilst agreeing with the Chapter that the term “Minster” is confusing, the real issues appear to be: i] whether a re-branding as Southwell Cathedral would be of importance to its worshipers and visitors, and ii] the extent to which respondees to surveymonkey.co.uk/r/SouthwellMin are representative of either group.

[* The comments from the Minster are no longer available on Twitter, although the quotations may be found in the Newark Advertiser; in addition, the Mailchimp® survey was suspended temporarily “in order to make some changes”. The BBC reports the Dean as saying that the church leaders may decide not to change anything and will look at it again in the new year. “We should have started with our near community and stakeholders before putting it on the Wild West of social media.” Indeed.]

Cite this article as: David Pocklington, "Minsters and Cathedrals" in Law & Religion UK, 7 December 2020, https://lawandreligionuk.com/2020/12/07/minsters-and-cathedrals/


2 thoughts on “Minsters and Cathedrals

  1. With congregations dwindling and Christian Faith plummeting in England it’s good to see that the old CofE has it’s priorities right and is concentrating on important issues!

    However, speaking as a Yorkshireman, just keep your ultra woke mitts off York Minster which is the best and most important Church in Britain certainly far more important than that West Minster place down south.

    • I must confess that words like ‘Titanic’ and ‘deckchairs’ come to mind. But I’m only a Quaker, so what do I know?

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