Church of England parish church

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The parish church of St. Lawrence at Bourton-on-the-Water, Gloucestershire, England (pictured 2003)
Combe Martin parish church (St. Peter ad Vincula), North Devon, England (pictured 2004)

A parish church in the Church of England is the church which acts as the religious centre for the people within each Church of England parish (the smallest and most basic Church of England administrative unit; since the 19th century sometimes called the ecclesiastical parish, to avoid confusion with the civil parish which many towns and villages have).

In many English villages the church is a prominent landmark and its tower is often the tallest structure in the settlement.

Parishes in England[edit]

In England, there are parish churches for both the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church. References to a "parish church", without mention of a denomination, will, however, usually be to those of the Church of England due to its status as the Established Church. This is generally true also for Wales, although the Church in Wales is dis-established.

The Church of England is made up of parishes, each one forming part of a diocese. Almost every part of England is within both a parish and a diocese (there are very few non-parochial areas and some parishes not in dioceses). These ecclesiastical parishes are often no longer the same as the civil parishes in local government. Larger towns and cities, even those with cathedrals, still have ecclesiastical parishes and parish churches.

Each parish is ministered to by a parish priest, usually called a vicar, rector or priest-in-charge. More rarely the parish priest is known as a "perpetual curate". In one instance only the priest is also, by historical custom, officially known as an "archpriest".[1] Each parish usually has one active parish church, though rarely and historically more than one; if there is no parish church, the bishop will usually license another building and may designate it as a Parish Centre of Worship.[2] A parish may also be served by a number of chapels of ease. Unused 'redundant' parish churches may exist in parishes formed by the merging of two or more parishes, or because of the cost of upkeep. These redundant churches may survive as ruins, remain empty, or be converted for alternative uses.[3]

12th-century priest's door and low window of the parish church at Guiting Power, Gloucestershire


Church of England parish churches include some of the oldest churches to be found in England, often built before the 16th-century reformation, and thus predating the division of Western Christianity. A number are substantially of Anglo-Saxon date, and all subsequent periods of architecture are represented in the country. Most parishes have churches that date back to the Middle Ages, though often with many later additions or alterations. The parish churches of the City of London are particularly famous for their Baroque architecture. Each building reflects its status and there is considerable variety in the size and style of parish churches. Some very large former monastic or collegiate churches are now parish churches, not always in their complete original form. As well as their architecture, many Church of England parish churches are known for their interesting and beautiful church fittings which are often remarkable survivals.[citation needed] These may include monuments, hatchments, wall paintings, stained glass, floor tiles, carved pews, choir stalls (perhaps with misericords), lecterns and fonts, sometimes even shrines or vestments.

The Church of England parish church was always fundamental to the life of every community, especially in rural areas. However, by the late 20th and early 21st centuries, with the decline in the number of worshippers and the shortage of Anglican priests, there has been a trend towards team or shared ministries, and many parish churches no longer have a service every Sunday.

Notable parish churches[edit]

St Martin's Church, Canterbury
Leeds Parish Church
St Magnus the Martyr, London
Selby Abbey
St Margaret's, Westminster

This is a very incomplete list of notable Church of England parish churches:

Location Name Description
Ashmanhaugh, Norfolk St. Swithin The smallest round-tower church in the UK
Barton-upon-Humber, North Lincolnshire St Peter's Church Good Saxon tower
Bedford St Paul's church On the site of a former ancient minster, the present medieval 'hall church' was the wartime home of the BBC's The Daily Service. Now the county church with a fine Bodley screen and maintains a choral tradition.
Beverley, East Riding of Yorkshire Beverley Minster Perpendicular west front, continuous vault, Percy tomb, Hawksmoor font cover, the largest parish church in England by floor area (3489 m2).
Bodmin, Cornwall St Petroc's Church The church building is late medieval and is the largest parish church in Cornwall.
Boston, Lincolnshire St Botolph's Church The Stump, lantern interior, 52 misericords.
Brent, London St Gabriel's, Cricklewood A New Wine church which is home to an historic organ used in BBC Radio recitals.
Bristol St Mary Redcliffe Church Twin porches, Perpendicular interior, 1,200 roof bosses.
Brompton, Kensington, London Holy Trinity ("HTB") Evangelical Anglican church where the Alpha course was first developed.
Burford, Oxfordshire St John's Church Merchants' guild chapel, Red Indian memorial, Kempe glass.
Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk St Mary's Church Burial place of Mary Tudor, Queen of France, sister of Henry VIII, second longest aisle of a Parish Church in England. Hammer beam roof with carved angels. Has a traditional robed choir which has existed for hundreds of years.
Canterbury, Kent St Martin's Oldest surviving Church of England parish church of English origin
Christchurch, Dorset Christchurch Priory Norman exterior, Decorated screen, Perpendicular tombs and chantries.
Cirencester, Gloucestershire St John the Baptist's Church Perpendicular porch, fan vaults, merchants' tombs.
City of London St Magnus the Martyr Wren church situated at the end of the old London Bridge.
Crediton, Devon Crediton Parish Church A former collegiate church which was rebuilt in the 15th century and has some fine monuments.
Culbone, Somerset St Culbone's Church Smallest parish church in England.
Doncaster St George's Minster "South Yorkshire's most majestic building".[citation needed]
Earls Barton, Northamptonshire All Saints' Church An ancient Saxon church famous for its incredible heritage.
Fairford, Gloucestershire St Mary's Church Complete set of medieval glass, stone carvings, misericords.
Gawber, Barnsley St Thomas the Apostle [1] A small church in South Yorkshire
Grantham, Lincolnshire St Wulfram's Church Steeple and west front, Decorated tracery, Corbel-table carvings.
Great Witley, Worcestershire St Michael and All Angels A complete Italian Baroque style in a remote part of England, with painted ceilings and stained-glass windows from the former Cannons House near London
Greensted, Essex Greensted Church (officially St Andrew's Church) Probably the only pre-12th century wooden church still in use in the world.
Hull, Yorkshire Holy Trinity Church The fourth-largest parish church in England by floor area (2473 m2).
Kendal, Cumbria Holy Trinity Church Claims to be the widest parish church in England
Leeds Minster and Parish Church of St Peter Leeds has no Anglican cathedral, so the Minster has several administrative functions below those of Bradford, Ripon and Wakefield Cathedrals.
Liverpool Our Lady and St Nicholas Liverpool's 'sailors' church', traditional emigrants' landmark on leaving for the New World
Long Melford, Suffolk Holy Trinity Church Richest East Anglian church, Clopton Chantry, Lily Crucifix, medieval glass. An example of a wool church.
Ludlow, Shropshire: St Laurence's Church Medieval Palmers' glass, Pietà bench-end, civic tombs.
Maidenhead, Berkshire St Luke's Church Largest church in Maidenhead
Ottery St Mary, Devon St Mary's Church, Ottery St Mary Miniature Exeter Cathedral, painted roof, fan-vaulted aisle.
Patrington, East Riding of Yorkshire St Patrick's Church Octagonal tower top, Decorated carvings throughout.
Pershore, Worcestershire Pershore Abbey Former abbey restored by George Gilbert Scott
Plymouth, Devon St Andrew's Church 15th century church rebuilt after the Plymouth Blitz, the largest parish church in Devon.
Selby, North Yorkshire Selby Abbey Norman nave, chancel stiff-leaf, east window tracery with medieval glass.
Sherborne, Dorset Sherborne Abbey Complete fan vault, carved bosses, misericords.
Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire Tewkesbury Abbey Norman nave, 'Sun of York' bosses, Despenser tombs, medieval glass.
Walpole St Peter, Norfolk St Peter's Church Nave woodwork, font cover, 'bolt-hole' tunnel.
Warwick, Warwickshire St Mary's Church Beauchamp Chapel and tombs.
Westminster, London All Saints, Margaret Street Anglo-Catholic shrine.
Westminster, London St Margaret's The parish church of the British Houses of Parliament
Wing, Buckinghamshire All Saints' Church Anglo-Saxon apse and crypt.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Haccombe in Devon. Notes and Queries, no.321
  2. ^ "Mission and Pastoral Measure 2011, s.43". Retrieved 9 October 2015.
  3. ^ Lichfield Diocese Archived 16 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  • Pevsner, N.; et al. (1951–74). The Buildings of England (46 vols.). Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.
  • Jenkins, Simon (1999). England's Thousand Best Churches. photog. Paul Barker. London: Allen Lane. ISBN 0-7139-9281-6.
  • Morris, Richard (1989). Churches in the Landscape. London: J. M. Dent & Sons.

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