Vicar Apostolic of the London District

The Vicar Apostolic of the London District was the title given to the bishop who headed an ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Roman Catholic Church in England, the Vicariate Apostolic of the London District, from 1688 to 1850.

Within a short space of time after the accession of Elizabeth I those Catholic bishops who had not died were deposed and replaced in their sees by Protestant appointees. Most of the deposed bishops were imprisoned in various locations and died in captivity over a period of years. The last to die was Thomas Goldwell, Bishop of St Asaph, in Rome on April 3 1585. In 1623, after 65 years, the pope, Urban VIII, decided once again to appoint a Catholic bishop with actual jurisdiction in England.

The choice fell upon William Bishop, who was given the title of Vicar Apostolic of England. Bishop landed secretly in England at midnight on July 31 1623, but was to die only nine months later. He was succeeded in office by Richard Smith, also ordained a bishop, who arrived in England in April 1625. However, two warrants issued for his arrest in August 1631, and Smith was forced to resign and flee to France, where he died in Paris in 1655. After 1631 there was no Catholic bishop in England for another 54 years, and the void was to some extent filled by a dean and chapter of rather unsure legal status, established by Bishop and confirmed by Smith. It was only in 1685 that a successor was appointed by Rome, in the person of John Leyburn, a Doctor of the Sorbonne and former President of the English College at Douai, who was consecrated bishop in Rome on September 9 1685. In 1623, Bishop had divided the country into six areas, at the head of each of which he placed a superior with the title of vicar general and this had remained the system thereafter. Leyburn then reduced these to four. In the summer of 1687 he personally toured the North and confirmed over 20,000 Catholics there.

In early 1688, the number of bishops in England was multiplied by the pope on January 20 to a total of four vicars apostolic and the territory of the former single vicariate apostolic was restricted, being centred still on London, with the title Vicariate Apostolic of the London District. The first Vicar Apostolic of the London District from January 30 1688 was Bishop John Leyburn, who had been Vicar Apostolic of All England and Wales since August 24 1685.

Although the vicariates as a whole were later more finely divided over the years, and notwithstanding intermittent persecution, a Vicariate Apostolic of the London District continued in existence until on 29 September 1850 Pope Pius IX issued the bull "Universalis Ecclesiae", by which thirteen new dioceses were created, among them the Archdiocese of Westminster, a new jurisdiction to replace formally the previous vicariate.

The last Vicar Apostolic of the London District was Bishop Nicholas Wiseman (d. 1865), who on September 29 1850 was assigned the title of Metropolitan Archbishop of Westminster and the following day was created a cardinal.

List of Vicars Apostolic of England and of the London District (1623-1850)

Sources

*Basil Hemphill, "The Early Vicars Apostolic of England 1685-1750", Burns & Oates, London, 1953.
*Godfrey Anstruther, "The Seminary Priests", St Edmund's College, Ware / Ushaw College, Durham, vol. 1, pp. 321-322.
*Godfrey Anstruther, "The Seminary Priests", St Edmund's College, Ware / Ushaw College, Durham, vol. 2, pp. 193, 195-200.

See also

*Religion in the United Kingdom
*Catholic Church in Great Britain
*English Catholic parish histories
*Lists of office-holders


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