Westminster abbey west

Westminster Abbey is used for the coronation of British monarchs

The United Kingdom Treaty of Union in 1707 that led to the formation of the Kingdom of Great Britain (which became the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in 1801 when Great Britain signed an Act of Union with Ireland) ensured that there would be a protestant succession as well as a link between church and state that still remains.

According to the 2001 UK census, Christianity remains the major religion, followed by Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, Judaism and Buddhism in terms of number of adherents. Though each country that makes up the UK has a long tradition of Christianity that pre-dates the UK itself, in practice all have relatively low levels of religious observance and today are secular societies.

England and WalesEdit

Main article: Wales

Christianity is the main religion in England with the Church of England the Established Church. It retains representation in the UK Parliament and the British monarch is a member of the church (required under Article 2 of the Treaty of Union) as well as its Supreme Governor. The Church of England also retains the right to draft legislative measures (related to religious administration) through the General Synod that can then be passed into law by Parliament. In the 1920s, the Church in Wales became independent from the Church of England and became 'disestablished' but remains in the Anglican Communion. Baptist Union of Wales, Methodism and the Presbyterian Church of Wales are present in Wales as well. The Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales is the second largest Christian church with around five million members, mainly in England. There are also growing Orthodox, Evangelical and Pentecostal churches, with Pentecostal churches in England now third after the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church in terms of church attendance. Among the Pentecostal churches is Elim Pentecostal Church. Other Churches include Salvation Army, United Reformed Church, Assemblies of God, Plymouth Brethren, Baptist Union, Methodists, Congregationalists and house churches.


Main article: Scotland

The presbyterian Church of Scotland (known informally as The Kirk), is recognised as the national church of Scotland and not subject to state control. The British monarch is an ordinary member and is required to swear an oath to "defend the security" of the church upon his or her accession. The Roman Catholic Church in Scotland is Scotland's second largest church, representing a sixth of the population. The Scottish Episcopal Church, which is part of the Anglican Communion, dates from the final establishment of Presbyterianism in Scotland in 1690, when it split from the Church of Scotland and is not a 'daughter church' of the Church of England. Further splits in the Church of Scotland, especially in the nineteenth century, led to the creation of various other Presbyterian churches in Scotland, including the Free Church of Scotland.

Northern IrelandEdit

Main article: Northern Ireland

The main religious groups in Northern Ireland are organised on an all-Ireland basis. Though Protestants and Anglicans are in the overall majority, the Roman Catholic Church of Ireland is the largest single church. The Presbyterian Church in Ireland, closely linked to the Church of Scotland in terms of theology and history, is the second largest church followed by the Church of Ireland (Anglican) which was disestablished in the nineteenth century.


National churchesEdit


The Church of England is the Mother Church of the worldwide Anglican Communion (except the Scottish Episcopal Church which has separate origins and is a Sister Church rather than a Daughter Church) and the oldest among the communion's thirty-eight independent national churches. It considers itself to be both Catholic and reformed. It regards itself as in continuity with the pre-Reformation state Catholic church, but has been a distinct Anglican church since the settlement under Elizabeth I, with some disruption during the 17th-century Commonwealth| period. The British Monarch is formally Supreme Governor of the Church of England, and its spiritual leader is the Archbishop of Canterbury, who is regarded by convention as Primus inter pares of the worldwide communion of Anglican Churches, (the Anglican Communion). In practice the Church of England is governed by the General Synod, under the authority of Parliament.


Main article: Church of Scotland

The Church of Scotland, known informally by its Scots language name, The Kirk, is recognised in law (by the Church of Scotland Act 1921) as the national church of Scotland though it is not an Established church and is independent of state control in spiritual matters. It is a Reformed church, with a Presbyterian system of ecclesiastical polity, decisively shaped by the Scottish Reformation. The British Monarch is an ordinary member of the Church of Scotland and is represented at the General Assembly by the Lord High Commissioner.

The Scottish Reformation was more influenced by Calvinism than in England, with the adoption of the Westminster Confession of Faith. There have been divisions within Presbyterianism such as the Disruption of 1843 in Scotland when 450 ministers of the Church broke away, over the issue of the Church's relationship with the State, to form the Free Church of Scotland. In 1900 the vast majority of the Free Church of Scotland united with the United Presbyterian Church of Scotland to form the United Free Church of Scotland, which re-united with the Church of Scotland in 1929. The remaining members of the former Free Church founded a new Free Church of Scotland, which they claimed to be the legitimate Free Church in 1900.

The indigenous Scottish Episcopal Church, which is part of the Anglican communion, is a relatively small denomination and not established.


The Church in Wales, (Yr Eglwys yng Nghymru), is a member Church of the Anglican Communion, consisting of six dioceses in Wales. The Archbishop of Wales holds that post as well as being bishop of one of the six dioceses. The Welsh Church Act 1914 provided for the separation of the dioceses of the Church of England located in Wales known collectively as the Church in Wales from the rest of the Church, and for the simultaneous disestablishment of the Church. The Act came into operation in 1920; since that time there has been no Established church in Wales.

Northern IrelandEdit

The Anglican Church of Ireland is an autonomous province of the Anglican Communion, operating across both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Like other Anglican churches, it considers itself to be both Catholic and Reformed. The Church of Ireland was disestablished in 1871 by the Irish Church Disestablishment Act. The Republic of Ireland later seceded from the UK. Although the Protestant population of Northern Ireland is larger numerically than the Catholic population, the Roman Catholic Church forms the largest single denomination. The largest Protestant denominations are the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, the Church of Ireland and the Methodist Church. The 2001 UK census showed 40.3% Roman Catholic, 20.7% Presbyterian Church, with the Church of Ireland having 15.3% and the Methodist Church 3.5%. 13.8% gave no religion, and other religions were 0.3%.

Roman CatholicismEdit

Main article: Roman Catholicism in England and Wales
St Chads Cathedral Birmingham

Saint Chad's Cathedral in Birmingham was the first Roman Catholic cathedral to be built in England after the Reformation

The Roman Catholic Church has separate national churches for England and Wales, Scotland and Ireland (which is administered on an all-Ireland basis) and so there is no single hierarchy for Roman Catholicism in the United Kingdom (though there is a single apostolic nuncio to the United Kingdom, presently Archbishop Faustino Sainz Muñoz).

The early years of the UK proved difficult for Catholics since they continued to face official discrimination. The Treaty of Union, for example, specified that there would be a protestant succession to the British throne and the civil rights of Catholics were severely curtailed with restrictions on property ownership, occupation and voting, and numbers, influence and visibility were at a low ebb. Things began to change following the 'Catholic Relief Act' in 1778 though equal rights were not achieved until the passing of the Catholic Emancipation Act in 1829. With numbers in England, Wales and Scotland boosted due to an influx of British Irish Catholics (Ireland was not yet a Republic) fleeing the Great Irish Famine, Catholic diocesan hierarchies were re-established in England and Wales in 1850 and restored in Scotland in 1878.

England and WalesEdit

The Church in England and Wales has five provinces: Birmingham, Cardiff, Liverpool, Southwark and Westminster. There are 22 dioceses which are divided into parishes. In addition to these, there are two dioceses covering England and Wales for specific groups which are the Bishopric of the Forces and the Apostolic Exarchate for Ukrainians. The Catholic Bishops in England and Wales come together in the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales. Currently the Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, is the ex officio President of the Conference.


The Church in Ireland covers the whole of the island of Ireland and its internal boundaries do not correspond with the border of Northern Ireland. The chair of the Catholic Archbishop of Armagh, Primate of All Ireland, for example, is in Armagh, Northern Ireland. Within Northern Ireland, Catholics comprise 40% of the population and constitute the largest single church, though there are more Protestants in total (constituting 45%). Within the Republic of Ireland, 87% of the population.


In the 2001 census about 16% of the population of Scotland described themselves as being Roman Catholic. Currently, they constitute 17% of Scotland, with 850,000 members. Journalist Andrew Collier notes that Scot Catholics no longer see themselves as a tribal minority, "but as a confident and influential part of the country's demographic mix." This Catholic self-esteem has had a dramatic political side effect, with Catholics starting to find common ground with the Scottish Nationalist Party. Scotland has two provinces - Glasgow and St Andrews and Edinburgh - and eight dioceses, and the Archbishops and bishops come together in the Bishops' Conference of Scotland. Currently, the Archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh, Cardinal Keith O'Brien, is President of the Conference.

Pentecostal Edit

Pentecostal churches are continuing to grow and, in terms of church attendance, are now third after the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church in England. There are three main denomination of Pentecostal churches;

The is also a growing number of independent, charismatic churches that encourage Pentecostal practices at part of their worship.


Haroldswick Methodist Church

The Methodist church at Haroldswick is the most northerly church in the United Kingdom

The Methodist movement traces its origin to the evangelical awakening in the 18th century. It was started as a movement within the Church of England by a group of men including John Wesley, an Anglican clergyman, and his younger brother Charles, but developed as a separate denomination after John Wesley's death. Traditionally, Methodism proved particularly popular in Wales with the Welsh Methodist revival in the 18th century and the 1904-1905 Welsh Revival.

Schisms within the original Methodist church, and independent revivals, led to the formation of a number of separate denominations calling themselves Methodist. The largest of these were the Primitive Methodist Church, the Bible Christian Church and the United Methodist Church (not connected with the American denomination of the same name, but a union of three smaller denominations). The original church became known as the Wesleyan Methodist Church to distinguish it from these bodies. The three major streams of British Methodism united in 1932 to form the current Methodist Church of Great Britain, which includes congregations in the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man, Malta and Gibraltar as part of the church. It is the fourth largest Christian denomination in the UK with around 270,000 members and 6,000 churches though it has only around 3,000 members in 50 congregations in Scotland. In Northern Ireland, where Methodism is also the fourth largest denomination, the church is organised within the Methodist Church in Ireland. The Wesleyan Reform Union and the Independent Methodist Connexion still remain separate from the Methodist Church of Great Britain.

In the 1960s, the Methodist Church of Great Britain made ecumenical overtures to the Church of England, aimed at church unity. Formally, these failed when they were rejected by the Church of England's General Synod in 1972. However, conversations and co-operation continued, leading on November 1 2003 to the signing of a covenant between the two churches. The Methodist Church in Ireland is the fourth largest denomination in Northern Ireland. In 2002 The Methodist Church in Ireland signed a covenant for greater cooperation and potential ultimate unity with the Church of Ireland.

Eastern Orthodox ChurchesEdit


Construction of the Cathedral of the Dormition of the Most-Holy Mother of God and the Holy Royal Martyrs (Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia), in Gunnersbury, commenced in 1997 in traditional Russian architectural style.

Russian Orthodox ChurchEdit

There are various Russian Orthodox groups in the UK. In 1962, Metropolitan Anthony (Bloom) of Sourozh founded and was for many years bishop, archbishop then metropolitan bishop of the diocese of the Russian Orthodox Diocese of Sourozh, the Russian Orthodox Moscow Patriarchate's diocese for Great Britain and Ireland. It is the most numerous Russian Orthodox group in the UK. There are also the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia churches as well as some churches and communities belonging to the Patriarchal Exarchate for Orthodox Parishes of Russian Tradition in Western Europe's Episcopal Cicariate in the UK.

Greek Orthodox ChurchEdit

Most Greek Orthodox Church parishes fall under the jurisdiction of the Archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain, based in London and led by His Eminence Gregorios, the Archbishop of Thyateira and Great Britain. Created in 1932, it is the diocese of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople that covers England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland as well as Malta. A Greek Orthodox community already existed at the time the UK was formed, worshipping in the Imperial Russian Embassy in London. However, it was another 130 years until an autonomous community was set up in Finsbury Park in London, in 1837. The first new church was built in 1850, on London Street in the City. In 1882, St Sophia Cathedral was constructed in London, in order to cope with the growing influx of Orthodox immigrants to the UK. By the outbreak of World War I, there were large Orthodox communities in London, Manchester, Cardiff and Liverpool, each focused on its own church. World War II and its aftermath also saw a large expansion amongst the Orthodox Communities.

Today, there are seven churches bearing the title of Cathedral in London as well as in Birmingham (the Dormition of the Mother of God and St Andrew) and Leicester. In addition to these, there are eighty-one churches and other places where worship is regularly offered, twenty-five places (including University Chaplaincies) where the Divine Liturgy is celebrated on a less regular basis, four chapels (including that of the Archdiocese), and two monasteries. As is traditional within the Orthodox Church, the bishops have a considerable degree of autonomy within the Archdiocese.

The Greek Orthodox Church of St Nicholas in Toxteth, Liverpool, was built in 1870. It is an enlarged version of St Theodore's church in Constantinople and is a Grade II Listed building.

The Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch also have the St. George's Cathedral in London and a total of sixteen parishes throughout the UK.

Other Eastern Orthodox ChurchesEdit

As well as the Russian and Greek Orthodox churches, there are also the Serbian Orthodox Church and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church all in London as well as the Belarusian Autocephalous Orthodox Church in Manchester.

Oriental OrthodoxyEdit

All Coptic Orthodox parishes fall under the jurisdiction of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria Pope of Alexandria. The Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom is divided into three main parishes:

  • Diocese of Ireland, Scotland and North England
  • Diocese of the Midlands and its affiliated areas
  • Diocese of South Wales

In addition, there is one Patriarchal Exarchate at Stevenage, Hertfordshire. Most British converts belong to the British Orthodox Church, which is canonically part of the Coptic Orthodox Church. There is also the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church and the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church in London.

There is also the Armenian Apostolic Church in London.

Other Christian denominationsEdit

Other traditions of Christianity have a long history in the UK.


The Baptist Union of Great Britain, despite its name, actually covers England and Wales. It was formed when the General Baptists and Particular Baptists came together in 1891. It is the largest national association of Baptist churches in the UK with about 2,150 churches, thirteen regional associations and six Baptist colleges. The Baptist Union of Wales was formed in 1866. They have 447 churches with some of them holding dual membership with the Baptist Union of Great Britain.

The Baptist Union of Scotland was founded in 1869, when 51 churches joined together to form the Union. By the end of the 19th century this had risen to 118 churches. It currently has 173 churches.

The Association of Baptist Churches in Ireland has over 100 churches on the island but mostly Northern Ireland.

There are also smaller groups - the Association of Grace Baptist Churches, the Gospel Standard Baptists, the Grace Baptist Assembly and the Old Baptist Union.


Presbyterianism is a family of Christian denominations within the Reformed branch of Protestant Western Christianity. A form of Calvinism, Presbyterianism evolved primarily in Scotland before the Act of Union in 1707. Most of the few Presbyteries found in England can trace a Scottish connection. The Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland was formed in 1893 and claims to be the spiritual descendant of the Scottish Reformation. The Free Church of Scotland, which claims to tbe the legitimate Free Church in Scotland was founded in 1900. In England Presbyterianism was founded in secret in 1572. The Evangelical Presbyterian Church in England and Wales was founded in the late 1980s and declared themselves to be a Presbytery in 1996. They currently have ten churches. The Presbyterian Church in Ireland is the largest Protestant denomination and second largest church in Northern Ireland. The Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster was founded on March 17 1951 by the cleric and politician, Ian Paisley. It has about 60 churches in Northern Ireland. The Presbyterian Church of Wales seceded from the Church of England in 1811 and formally formed itself into a separate body in 1823. The Non-subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland has 31 congregations in Northern Ireland.

Congregational church

There are about 600 Congregational churches in the UK. In England there are three main groups, the Congregational Federation, the Evangelical Fellowship of Congregational Churches, and about 100 Congregational churches that are loosely federated with other congregations in the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches, or are unaffiliated. In Scotland the churches are mostly member of the Congregational Federation and in Wales which traditionally has a larger number of Congregationalists, most are members of the Union of Welsh Independents.


There is one Mennonite congregation in the UK, the Wood Green Mennonite Church in London.

Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)

The Britain Yearly Meeting is the umbrella body for the Religious Society of Friends in England, Scotland, Wales, the Channel Isles and the Isle of Man. There are 25,000 worshippers with about 400 local meetings. Northern Ireland comes under the umbrella of the Ireland Yearly Meeting.

The United Reformed Church (URC)

The URC is the result of a union between the Presbyterian Church of England and the Congregational Church in England and Wales in 1972 and subsequent unions with the Re-formed Association of Churches of Christ in 1981 and the Congregational Union of Scotland in 2000. The URC has about 1,900 congregations.

The Salvation Army

It was founded in the East End of London in 1865.


The General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches is the umbrella organisation for Unitarian, Free Christian and other liberal religious congregations in the UK. The Unitarian Christian Association was formed in 1991.

Countess of Huntingdon's Connexion

The Countess of Huntingdon's Connexion is a small society of evangelical churches, founded in 1783, which today has 23 congregations in England.

Other denominationsEdit

There are several Nordic churches in London which provide Lutheran Christian worship.


Traditionally, saints have often been venerated locally, nationally and internationally. This is often reflected in British toponymy. However, following the Reformation, the cult of saints has been observed to a much lesser degree than historically.

Patron saints:

Many municipalities and regions preserve traditions of their own saints. See, for example, Cornish Saints and Saint Swithun.

Wales is particularly noted for naming places after either local or well-known saints - all places beginning in Llan e.g. Llanbedr - St Peter (Pedr); Llanfihangel - St Michael (Mihangel); Llanarmon - St Garmon. Because of the relatively small number of saints' names used, places names are often suffixed by their locality e.g. Llanfihangel Glyn Myfyr, Llanfihangel-y-Creuddyn, Llanfihangel-y-Pennant.

Judaism Edit

Main article: British Jews

See also - History of the Jews in England, History of the Jews in Scotland, History of the Jews in Wales, History of the Jews in Ireland

Singers Hill Synagogue 82

Singers Hill Synagogue, Birmingham, England.

The Jewish Naturalisation Act, enacted in 1753, permitted the naturalisation of foreign Jews, but was repealed the next year. The first graduate from the University of Glasgow who was openly-known to be Jewish was in 1787. Unlike their English contemporaries, Scottish students were not required to take a religious oath.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, British society was considered more tolerant of Jews than most other European nations, especially the ones from Germany and eastern Europe. In 1841 Isaac Lyon Goldsmid was made baronet, the first Jew to receive a hereditary title. The first Jewish Lord Mayor of the City of London, Sir David Salomons, was elected in 1855, followed by the 1858 emancipation of the Jews. On July 26 1858, Lionel de Rothschild was finally allowed to sit in the British House of Commons when the law restricting the oath of office to Christians was changed; Benjamin Disraeli, a baptised, teenage convert to Christianity of Jewish parentage, was already an MP.

In 1874, Disraeli became Prime Minister having earlier been Chancellor of the Exchequer. In 1884 Nathan Mayer Rothschild became the first Jewish member of the British House of Lords; again Disraeli was already a member.

The Jewish population of the UK peaked in the late 1940s at around 400,000, but has since declined through emigration and intermarriage to around 250,000; some community leaders have expressed concern that the Jewish community could disappear by the end of the 21st century if current trends continue. However, a report in August 2007 by University of Manchester historian Dr Yaakov Wise stated that 75% of all births in the Jewish community were to ultra-orthodox, Haredi parents, and that the increase of ultra-orthodox Jewry allied with the declining overall Jewish population has led to a significant rise in the proportion of British Jews who are ultra-orthodox. The figures were based on census data and also on the regular monitoring of Jewish births by academics in both Manchester and Leeds.

A ten-month parliamentary inquiry into anti-Semitism in the UK reported on September 7 2006.


Iona Nunnery 14745

Ruins of a former nunnery in Iona

Catholic, Anglican and Orthodox monastic communities exist as well as religious communities of Hindus and Buddhists.

Religious leadersEdit


Lambeth Palace is the official residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury in London

Notable places of worshipEdit

The varied religious and ethnic history of the United Kingdom and the countries that formed it has left a wide range of religious buildings - churches, cathedrals, chapels, chapels of ease and synagogues. Besides its spiritual importance, the religious architecture includes buildings of importance to the tourism industry and local pride. As a result of the Reformation, the ancient cathedrals remained in the possession of the then-established churches, while most Roman Catholic churches date from Victorian times or are of more recent construction (curiously, in Liverpool the ultra-modern design Roman Catholic cathedral was actually completed before the more traditional design of the Anglican cathedral, whose construction took most of the twentieth century). Changing social and demographic profiles mean that in some areas redundant religious buildings are being converted to secular purposes. In other locations, new places of worship are being established. Notable places of worship include:

Westminster abbey west

Westminster Abbey is used for the coronation of all British Monarchs, who are also made the head of the Church of England.

England Edit



Northern IrelandEdit

Denominations in Great BritainEdit

Church of England20.9
Roman Catholic9.0
Presbyterian/Church of Scotland2.8
Other Protestant2.7
Christian (no denomination)10.3
Other Christian0.4
No religion45.7
Refused / NA0.5

Source: BSA Survey 2007.

See alsoEdit

External linksEdit

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