Minster (church)

Minster (church)

Minster is an honorific title given to particular churches in England, most famously York Minster. The term minster is first found in royal foundation charters of the 7th century; and, although it corresponds to the Latin monasterium or monastery,[1] it then designated any settlement of clergy living a communal life and endowed by charter with the obligation of maintaining the daily office of prayer. Widespread in 10th century Anglo-Saxon England, minsters declined in importance with the systematic introduction of parishes and parish churches from the 11th century onwards; but remained a title of diginity in later medieval England for instances where a cathedral, monastery, collegiate church or parish church had originated with an Anglo-Saxon foundation. Eventually a minster came to refer more generally to "any large or important church, especially a collegiate or cathedral church".[1] In the 21st century further minsters have been added by simply bestowing the status of a minster on existing parish churches.



The word minster (Old English mynster) was simply a rendering of the Latin monasterium (monastery).[2] An early appearance was in the Ecclesiastical History of the Venerable Bede (731).[1]

On occasion minster is used to translate the German münster (e.g. Basel, Bonn, Constance, Essen, Freiburg, Ulm), which is a parallel translation of monasterium, but reflects a history of monasticism different from that of England. (See munster.)


Early and Mid Anglo-Saxon periods

The first minsters in the English-speaking parts of Britain were founded in the century after the mission to the Saxons led by Augustine of Canterbury in 597. The first cases for which documentary evidence has been preserved are Oswy's programme of 654/5 in which he endowed 12 small minsters, and a gift from Alhfrith to Wilfrid in around 660 to accompany the foundation of the minster at Ripon. Then the monastic boom began around 670, with many substantial royal gifts of land.[3] Kings made grants of land to named individuals to found a minster. In 734 Bede wrote a letter to Ecgbert (Archbishop of York), warning that noble families were abusing the privileged legal status accorded to the clergy, by making excessive landed endowments to minsters under their control, hence reducing the overall stock of lands carrying the obligations of military service to the Northumbian state.

The word derives from the Old English "mynster", meaning "monastery", "nunnery", "mother church" or "cathedral", itself derived from the Latin "monasterium", meaning a group of clergy living a communal life. Thus, "minster" could apply to any church whose clergy followed a formal rule: as for example a monastery or a chapter; or simply to a church served by a less formal group of clergy living communally. In the earliest days of the English Church, from the 6th to the 8th centuries, minsters, in their various forms, constituted the only form of Christian institution with a permanent site, and indeed at the beginning of the period, the only form of permanent collective settlement in a culture where there were no towns or cities; and where kings, nobles and bishops were continually on the move, with their respective retinues, from estate to estate.

Minsters were commonly founded by the king or by a royal thegn, receiving a royal charter and a corporate endowment of bookland and other customary agricultural rights and entitlements within a broad territory; as well as exemption from certain forms of customary service (especially military). The superior of the minster would generally be from the family of the founder, and its primary purpose was to support the king and the thegn in the regular worship of the divine office; especially through intercession in times of war. Minsters are also said to have been founded, or extensively endowed, in expiation of royal crimes; as for example Minster-in-Thanet near Ramsgate. Minsters might acquire pastoral and missionary responsibilities, but initially this appear to have been of secondary importance. In the 9th century, almost all English minsters suffered severely from the depredations of Viking invaders; and even when a body of clergy continued, any form of regular monastic life typically ceased. The important role of minsters in the organisation of the early Christian church in Anglo-Saxon England has been called the "Minster hypothesis".

Late Saxon and Norman periods

Following the English recovery, in the 10th century, surviving minsters were often refounded in accordance with the new types of collective religious bodies then becoming widespread in Western Europe, as monasteries following the reformed Benedictine rule, or as collegiate church or cathedral chapters following the rule of Chrodegang of Metz. Consequently by the 11th century, a hierarchy of minsters became apparent; cathedral churches, or head minsters having pre-eminence within a diocese; surviving old minsters being pre-eminent within an area broadly equivalent to an administrative hundred; while newer lesser minsters and field churches were increasingly proliferating on local estates. Of particular importance for these developments, was the royal enforcement in this period of tithe as a compulsory religious levy on arable production. This vastly increased the resources available to support clergy; but at the same time strongly motivated local landowners to found their own local churches, so as to retain tithe income within their own estates.

In the 11th and 12th centuries local estate churches, typically served by individual priests, developed into the network of parishes familiar to this day. The old minsters, mostly then became parish churches; their former pre-eminence acknowledged by the occasional retention of the honorific title; and sometimes by the continued recognition of former estate churches within their ancient territories as being, in some degree, of subsidiary status and dignity.

Late 20th and 21st century additions

Additional minsters have been designated in the 20th and 21st centuries, by adding an honorific title to existing parish churches. These have included Dewsbury (1994), Sunderland Minster (1998), Preston (2003), Rotherham (2004),[4] Stoke (2005), and Newport (2008). St Andrew's Church, Plymouth became a Minster Church in late 2009.[5] The Parish Church of St. John the Baptist in Halifax, West Yorkshire was elevated to Minster Status in November 2009. St James's Church in Grimsby and dedicated as a minster on 16 May 2010 [6]. Croydon Parish Church was rededicated as a Minster by the Bishop of Southwark on 29 May 2011. The latest churches to be so elevated were announced on Sunday 2nd October by order of the Bishop of Norwich. They are St Margaret's Church Kings Lynn and St Nicholas, Great Yarmouth - the latter will become a Minster during a service to be led by the Bishop on 9th December 2011.


status examples
cathedral (status long held) Lincoln Minster,[7] York Minster
cathedral (recent elevation) Ripon Cathedral, Southwell Minster
former cathedral, now parish church Stow Minster
former collegiate church, now parish church Beverley Minster, Hemingbrough Minster, Howden Minster, Wimborne Minster
parish church St Andrew's Minster Ashingdon Essex, Dewsbury Minster, Halifax Minster, Reading Minster, Stonegrave Minster, St Gregory's Minster by Kirkdale nr Kirkbymoorside in North Yorkshire, Grimsby Minster, Croydon Minster
minster status preserved in placename Axminster, Forrabury and Minster, Ilminster, Minster-in-Thanet, Upminster, Westminster Abbey, Wimborne Minster
ruins South Elmham Minster
city church (recent elevation) Doncaster Minster, Preston Minster, Rotherham Minster, Stoke Minster, Sunderland Minster, Sts Thomas Minster, Plymouth Minster


  1. ^ a b c "Minster". Oxford English Dictionary Online. http://dictionary.oed.com/. Retrieved 2009-02-16. 
  2. ^ Richard Morris (1989). Churches in the Landscape. J.M. Dent. 
  3. ^ John Blair (2005). The Church in Anglo-Saxon Society. OUP. 
  4. ^ "Church raised to minster status". BBC. 2004-11-16. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/south_yorkshire/4014671.stm. Retrieved 2009-02-16. 
  5. ^ "Mother Church becomes a Minster". BBC. 2009-03-02. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/devon/7919017.stm. Retrieved 2009-03-12. 
  6. ^ "Parish church gets Minster status". BBC News. 2010-04-15. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/humber/8622187.stm. 
  7. ^ Medieval Lincoln Minster

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Minster Church of St. Mary, Stow-in-Lindsey, Lincolnshire — The Minster Church of St. Mary, Stow in Lindsey is one of the oldest parish churches in England. It originally served as the Cathedral Church of the ancient diocese of Lindsey, founded in the 7th century, and stands on the site of a much older… …   Wikipedia

  • Wimborne Minster (church) — Parish church name = Wimborne Minster caption = Wimborne Minster dedication = St Cuthburga denomination = Church of England tradition = parish = Wimborne Minster deanery = archdeaconry = diocese = Salisbury province = Canterbury presbytery =… …   Wikipedia

  • Minster — could mean: Minster (church) Minster Machine Company Minster could also refer to: Minster, part of Forrabury and Minster Minster, Ohio Minster, Swale Minster in Thanet This disambiguation page lists articles asso …   Wikipedia

  • Church of St Andrew, Northover — Church of St Andrew Location: Northover, Ilchester, Somerset, England Coordinates …   Wikipedia

  • Church of St Mary, North Petherton — Church of St Mary …   Wikipedia

  • Minster-in-Thanet — Not to be confused with Minster, Swale. Coordinates: 51°20′00″N 1°18′30″E / 51.3332°N 1.3082°E / 51.3332; 1.3082 …   Wikipedia

  • Minster, Thanet — infobox UK place country = England official name= Minster latitude= 51.3332 longitude= 1.3082 static static image caption=Church of St Mary the Virgin, Minster in Thanet population = 3,267 [cite web |… …   Wikipedia

  • Minster hypothesis — The minster hypothesis is a debated view that the organisation of the early Anglo Saxon Christian church was based around minsters staffed by communities of clerics and providing spiritual services within a defined area (known as a parochia).[1]… …   Wikipedia

  • Minster Elementary School — U.S. National Register of Historic Places …   Wikipedia

  • Church of St Mary the Great, Cambridge — Church of St Mary the Great The Church of St Mary the Great …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.