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Pope makes UK church first co-cathedral in British history

The Church of St. Mary of the Isle, located in Douglas on the Isle of Man in Britain. / Credit: St Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, Douglas, by Andrew Abbott, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

London, England, Sep 26, 2023 / 11:15 am (CNA).

Pope Francis has awarded a U.K. church “co-cathedral status,” making it the first of its kind in Britain’s history.

The Church of St. Mary of the Isle, located in Douglas on the Isle of Man, has achieved this rare status after Douglas was formally recognized as a city during the late Queen Elizabeth II’s platinum jubilee celebrations in June 2022.

St. Mary of the Isle will be co-cathedral along with Liverpool’s Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King. The two cathedrals are 80 miles apart and are separated by the Irish Sea, but both fall within the Archdiocese of Liverpool.

Co-cathedrals are a rarity in the Catholic Church and exist only when two dioceses, each with its own cathedral, are merged, or when one diocese spans two different civil jurisdictions, as in the case of the Archdiocese of Liverpool.

Monsignor John Devine, who is parish priest of St. Mary of the Isle, said the process of being granted co-cathedral recognition had lasted a whole year but expressed his delight that it had finally happened. 

In a statement released by the Catholic Bishops Conference for England and Wales on Sept. 22, he said: “I am delighted that St. Mary of the Isle has been granted cathedral status; it is wonderful news for Catholics across the island.”

Devine said he was first approached by Douglas Borough Council, who pointed out that cities have cathedrals and the island already has an Anglican cathedral on the west coast. They enquired whether it would be possible to elevate the Church of St. Mary of the Isle in Douglas to the status of a cathedral.

“The archbishop of Liverpool, the Most Reverend Malcolm McMahon, on the advice of canon lawyers, petitioned the Holy Father, a request supported by both the Anglican bishop of Sodor and Man, the chief executive of Douglas Council, and the president of Tynwald,” Devine explained. 

In the same press statement, McMahon said: “It’s with great joy that St. Mary of the Isle has been granted cathedral status. The Isle of Man is a significant part of our archdiocese; it constitutes one-third of its land mass and the island’s Catholic community has increasing diversity with parishioners coming from many different parts of the world. It is fantastic that we can acknowledge this with the announcement of a co-cathedral — a status that is rare in the Catholic Church. It is something that everyone on the island will take great pride in.”

In the Sept. 22 statement, Devine also observed that the Isle of Man had a “unique faith story.” 

“Christianity in the Isle of Man traces its roots to the time of St. Patrick and St. Maughold in the fifth century. But there is limited appreciation of the unique history and traditions of the Manx Church in the rest of the archdiocese,” he said, adding: “Similarly, few of the island’s Catholics identify with Liverpool. However, rather than separating them further, the granting of co-cathedral status to St. Mary’s will raise consciousness in Liverpool to the riches of the Manx church.”

Devine said the permanent presence of the archbishop’s seat at St. Mary’s will also “serve as a reminder to the people of the island that the archbishop of Liverpool is their archbishop, too.”

The Isle of Man is a self-governing island situated between Great Britain and Ireland with a population of about 84,000 people.

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