An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church

Archbishop of Canterbury

In the Church of England, the Archbishop of Canterbury is the "Primate of all England and Metropolitan" of the ecclesiastical province of Canterbury in southern England. In addition to a palace at Canterbury, the Archbishop of Canterbury also has a residence at Lambeth Palace in London. The history of the present see begins in 597, with the arrival of St. Augustine. However, Canterbury was the seat of a bishop named Liudhard, who had been sent by the King of the West Franks, prior to 597. Augustine was sent by Pope Gregory I to convert the Anglo-Saxons. He was well received by Ethelbert (Aethelbehrt), King of Kent. Ethelbert's wife, Bertha, was a Christian princess and the daughter of the King of the West Franks who had sent Liudhard.

There was no break in the continuity of the office with the sixteenth-century Reformation. Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop 1533-1556, accepted Henry VIII's Act of Supremacy, by which the English sovereign replaced the Pope as head of the Church of England. The sovereign's role was subsequently redefined by Queen Elizabeth I as "supreme governor" in recognition that Christ is the head of the church. No one is recognized as head of all the churches which make up the Anglican Communion. The Archbishop of Canterbury is regarded as its titular leader, and exercises considerable spiritual authority beyond the province of Canterbury. The Archbishop of Canterbury presides over the Lambeth Conferences, the decennial meeting of the bishops of the Anglican Communion, and is president of the Anglican Consultative Council.

Glossary definitions provided courtesy of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY,(All Rights reserved) from “An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, A User Friendly Reference for Episcopalians,” Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum, editors.