A Brief History
Clifton Diocese is the Catholic diocese covering the West of England and includes the City and County of Bristol, the counties of Gloucestershire, Somerset, Wiltshire, North Somerset, South Gloucestershire and Bath and North East Somerset. The Diocesan website can be found here
A Brief History
The Western District, established in 1688, consisted of the whole of Wales and the present dioceses of Plymouth and Clifton. It was by far the poorest of the four districts into which the country was divided. In 1830, in an attempt to ensure a supply of priests for the district, Bishop Peter Baines, the Vicar-Apostolic, had bought the Prior Park estate near Bath and had established there a school and a seminary. Although an academic success, the College was a financial disaster. The first Bishop of Clifton, Bishop William Hendren, resigned in 1851, realising his inability to do anything about the huge debts on the College. His successor, Bishop Thomas Burgess, died in 1854, without doing anything to solve the problem.
A Decree of the Sacred College promulgated on 22 December 1855, prevented the appointment of a new Bishop of Clifton until the problems of the College had been solved. Instead, an Administrator was appointed who would manage the affairs of the diocese until a Bishop was appointed. He was Archbishop George Errington, Co-adjutor to Cardinal Nicholas Wiseman the Archbishop of Westminster. He arrived at Prior Park at the end of October 1855, but was not able to do anything to preserve the College. A court order was enforced against the College for non-payment of rent, and the contents of the College were sold by auction, and the premises vacated.
The problem of Prior Park having been settled, the new Bishop of Clifton was appointed. William Clifford, the second son of Lord Clifford of Chudleigh in Devon, was consecrated by Pope Pius IX on 15 February, 1857, and enthroned at the Pro-Cathedral on 17 March, 1857. For the next 36 years, he guided the diocese to prosperity. The Pro-Cathedral had an unfortunate history. Work on the building started in 1834 but ceased the following year when the foundations failed. The half-finished building was abandoned in 1843 when a second attempt to reinforce the foundations again failed. Bishop William Ullathorne, Vicar-Apostolic from 1846-1848, had a roof placed on the half-finished building so that it could be used as a church, but Bishop Clifford, with the advice of the architect Charles Hansom, had it converted into a reasonable Pro-Cathedral. He also re-purchased Prior Park and re-opened the school and the seminary, much of the expense being found by the Bishop’s family. Bishop Clifford died in 1893.
His successor, Bishop William Brownlow, was consecrated in 1894 and died in 1901. His successor, Bishop George Ambrose Burton, a priest of the Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle, was Bishop of Clifton for the next 29 years. An outstanding scholar, he was an authority on ancient manuscripts and catalogued the documents which now form the basis of the diocesan archives. He saw the magnificent Benedictine Abbey at Downside completed and he welcomed a second Benedictine community when the convert community from Caldey Island came to the diocese to settle at Prinknash.
Bishop William Lee, who had been secretary to Bishop Burton, succeeded him in 1931. During his 16 years as Bishop, he founded 72 new parishes and Mass centres. His successor, Bishop Joseph Rudderham, a priest of the Northampton Diocese, was consecrated at Clifton on 26 July, 1949. The financial demands made on the people of the diocese to provide new schools to comply with the provisions of the 1944 Education Act resulted in expenditure of £332,000 between 1949 and 1960. In spite of these demands, the building of a new Cathedral was undertaken in 1968. On the Feast of SS Peter and Paul, 1973, in the presence of a vast gathering of religious and civic dignitaries, Bishop Rudderham took possession of the new Cathedral, which now graces the Bristol skyline.
Bishop Rudderham resigned his See in August 1974 and died in retirement in February 1979. His Auxiliary Bishop, Bishop Mervyn Alexander was appointed eighth Bishop of Clifton in December 1974 and guided the diocese for the next 27 years. He then retired to Weston-super-Mare as parish priest at St Joseph’s. In March 2001 Bishop Declan Lang was ordained as ninth Bishop of Clifton.
It may be worthy of note that when Bishop Baines visited Rome in 1840, he estimated that the number of Catholics in the 16 missions in Gloucestershire, Somerset and Wiltshire was 13,014. In the same area there are currently 107 parishes within 13 deaneries serving a Catholic population of around 190,000 with 33,000 people attend Mass around the diocese every weekend.
Bishop Declan Lang is the ninth Bishop of Clifton. The Clifton Diocese came into existence in 1851 and was preceded by the Western District.
Bishop Lang was born on 15 April 1950 in Cowes on the Isle of Wight. Both his parents came from Ireland. His father was a doctor in Cowes, having previously worked as a GP in Birmingham.
He went to Allen Hall, St Edmund’s College, Ware to train for the priesthood in September 1968 and while he was there he also went to Royal Holloway College University of London, where he gained a BA in history.
He was ordained a priest on 7 June 1975 by Bishop Derek Worlock at St John’s Cathedral, Portsmouth. He was then appointed as an Assistant Priest at the Cathedral and Chaplain to St Edmund’s Comprehensive School in Portsmouth.
Four years after ordination he was appointed Secretary to Bishop Emery and Chancellor. During this time he also worked on the Diocesan Youth Commission, which he later chaired. For a number of years he went as Chaplain with the Portsmouth Group to Lourdes at Easter.
In 1983 he was appointed to the Religious Education Council as Adult Religious Education Advisor, a position he held until 1990. While doing this work he was also Parish Priest of Our Lady, Queen of Apostles, Bishop’s Waltham, for four years and then Parish Priest at Sacred Heart, Bournemouth.
As a result of his work in Adult Religious Education he produced together with John O’Shea, Vicky Cosstick and Damian Lundy ‘Parish Project’. This was to help parishes look at what they were currently doing, evaluate it and plan together future direction. This process was taken up by a number of parishes throughout the country.
In September 1990 he was appointed Moderator of the Curia and Administrator of St John’s Cathedral, Portsmouth. During this time he was also involved in organising a summer conference for the Diocese of Portsmouth and helped organise conferences in Southwark and Shrewsbury.
In January 1996 he was appointed as one of the Vicars General in the diocese, moving from Portsmouth to Abingdon in September 1996.
Whilst in Abingdon he chaired a working party on clergy appraisal, which was jointly sponsored by the Bishops’ Conference and the National Conference of Priests. The working party report was accepted by both conferences.
Bishop Lang’s Episcopal Ordination was on 28 March 2001 in Clifton Cathedral, Bristol.
Within the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales Bishop Lang is Chair of the Bishops’ Conference Department of International Affairs and sits on the Mixed Commission of the Conference of Religious. He is a member of the Bishops’ Conference Department of Christian Responsibility and Citizenship. He is one of the Vice Chairs of the National Catholic Safeguarding Commission and is also the Chair of Missio – the Pontifical Missionary Societies. Previously he was a member of the Department for Dialogue and Unit,y being the joint co-chair of the English Anglican Roman Catholic Committee and the committee for Dialogue between the United Reformed Church and the Roman Catholic Church.
Within the diocese Bishop Lang instigated a review of diocesan structures and as a result created the Diocesan Department for Evangelisation and Adult Education and a new Department for Schools and Colleges. During this time the Diocesan Liturgical Commission has also been reformed. He has launched a process of renewal entitled ‘Seeking the Face of Christ’, the purpose of which is to draw up pastoral guidelines for the development of the diocese. This resulted in our diocesan pastoral guidelines ‘Called to be a People of Hope‘. This involved all parishes and other communities that make up the Clifton Diocese.
In 2002 Bishop Lang was appointed an Ecumenical Prebendary of Bristol Cathedral.
Coat of Arms
All bishops have a coat of arms. When Bishop Declan was appointed as the ninth Bishop of Clifton in 2001, one of the tasks was to prepare a Coat of Arms. This was done by Father Philip McBrien a priest from the Nottingham Diocese. Father Philip explains the various elements that make up Bishop’s Coat of Arms.
The heraldic description first: for the Clifton Diocese:azure two bars wavy argent in chief two keys linked one or the other of the second in saltaire with a sword pointing upwards of the second the pommel and hilt of the third in base a fleur-de-lys of the third. And for Bishop Declan: sable a fess argent in chief two cinqfoils of the second in base on a mount of the second an oak sprig acorned proper a Book of Gospels closed vert charged with a latin cross.Now, a more user friendly description: The left side of the shield is for the Clifton Diocese, and the right for the bishop. The design for Bishop Declan’s is based on a shield once used by a family called Lang, differenced (changed) with the Book of Gospels for St Declan who brought the Gospel message to the people of the South East of Ireland.So for the Clifton Diocese we can say: A blue shield with two white wavy lines across the centre for the two rivers that meet at Bristol, above is the symbol of the keys and sword for SS Peter and Paul the patrons of the Cathedral, and below is a golden fleur-de-lys in honour of Our Lady the patroness of the diocese.For Bishop Declan: A black shield with a white band across the middle above are two cinqfoils (five-lobed petals) below is a white mount with an oak sprig with an acorn. The green Book of Gospels in the centre remembers the bishop’s name (St Declan was an Evangelist in Ireland) and the task of the bishop in spreading the Gospel.Father Philip McBrien
To make contact with Bishop Declan email him or write to Right Reverend Declan Lang, St Ambrose, North Road, Leigh Woods, Bristol BS8 3PW. You can also contact Bishop Declan’s Private Secretary Alessia Dini on 0117 973 3072.
Pastoral Letter for the Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ
This coming Wednesday, with the blessing and distribution of ashes, we enter the season of Lent. As St Paul says this is a favourable time – a time of renewal as we look towards Easter and the Resurrection.
It is important to remember that we enter Lent together not as individuals on a private journey to the Kingdom of God. Through the Prophet Joel, God calls us together, summons the community, inviting us to come back to God with all our hearts because the God in whom we believe is all tenderness and compassion, slow to anger, rich in graciousness and ready to relent.
This year as a Diocese we are reflecting and praying about what it means to be ‘In Communion’ with God, one another and the whole of creation. We are called to be in solidarity with the whole of humanity. We are also called to recognise our connectedness with the whole of creation. All creation is the work of God and the world in all its beauty and cruelty is entrusted to us as a gift not to be exploited for human greed. Lent is a time to reconcile ourselves to one another and to examine the way we care for the rest of creation. We do not always live as if we are brothers and sisters and there can also be an indifference and exploitation of the environment. In the letter to the Romans, St Paul says that the whole of creation is waiting to be freed from its slavery to corruption and brought into the same glorious freedom as the children of God.
This ‘favourable time’ of forty days of Lent is an opportunity for us to renew our relationships in the light of the Gospel of Christ. To do this we need to hear the ‘cry of the poor’ and the ‘cry of creation’. Any Lenten observance we undertake should be to strengthen the communion we have with God, one another and the whole of creation.
Prayer, fasting and alms giving are tried ways of Lenten renewal. In prayer we come to know God more intimately. We come to understand our personal vocation more clearly and are given the strength to live that vocation in our everyday lives. During this year as the Church in England and Wales celebrates the Year of the Word; The God Who Speaks, we could pray the readings of the Sundays of Lent during the week which precedes that particular Sunday. We can do this alone or in groups and share with one another what we have discovered from our reflections.
Prayer opens new horizons. So too should fasting. Through our self denial we can grow in awareness of the needs of others especially the hungry of the world who often go hungry because they are victims of war and violence and they have seen their homes and livelihoods destroyed. There are many hungry people in refugee camps throughout the world who live with little hope. Their hunger may not just be for food but for justice, peace, love and friendship. In them we can hear the cry of the poor and recognise our duty to help them through such agencies as Cafod and Pax Christi.
As a society we waste an enormous amount of food every day, every year. During Lent we could be more watchful of the food we waste and be more thankful for the food we have while others starve.
Alms giving is the call to have a generous heart; to be willing to share what we have with others. I visited St Gregory’s Catholic College in Bath last week whilst they were celebrating their 40th anniversary. Part of that celebration is for students and staff to carry out 40 acts of kindness towards others. During these forty days of Lent, we could aim to do an act of kindness each day so that at Easter we can celebrate a newness of life for ourselves and others.
Today we hear the call of God to be holy. Holiness is frequently thought to be for other people who can withdraw themselves from the ordinary affairs of life and spend time in prayer. That is a false understanding of holiness. We are all called to be holy by living our lives in love and bearing witness to Christ in everything we do wherever we find ourselves.
Pope Francis tells us not to be afraid of holiness. It will not take away any of our energy, vitality or joy. On the contrary we will become what God had in mind for us when he created us, and we will be faithful to our deepest self. To depend on God will free us from every form of enslavement and lead us to recognise our great dignity. The journey of Lent, like that of the Israelites who were led by Moses from Egypt through the desert to the promised land, will be a journey from whatever enslaves us today to the freedom of the people of God.
Lent is an opportunity for us to repent and believe the Gospel. It is a season to deepen our commitment to be missionary disciples, knowing that through his Cross and Resurrection, Jesus has reconciled us to the Father and made all things new.
May God bless you, be with you and strengthen the communion that we are called to be.
With my best wishes and prayers
Rt Rev Declan Lang, Bishop of Clifton
To be read and made available in all Churches and Chapels in the Clifton Diocese on the Seventh Sunday in Ordinary time, 22/23 February 2020.
Our Year of Communion will focus on a Spirituality of Communion and how we are called and saved, not as individuals but as God’s people. We will build upon existing ways in which parishes collaborate with each other and will encourage the work that has already begun.
Called to be a People of Hope documents
2017 / 2018 was the Year of Mission across our diocese. We reflected upon what it means to be a missionary church and missionary disciples, transforming our world according to the plan of God. We are a people who are called to build bridges, called to action in the name of Christ.”
2018 / 2019 was the Year of Prayer across our diocese. We are called to be a people who not only know about Jesus, but come to know him in prayer.
Bishop Declan launched the new diocesan vision ‘A Future Full of Hope‘ on Saturday 28 October, 2018 at St Brendan’s College, Brislington, Bristol. Over three hundred people came together from all over the diocese to explore the new diocesan strategy. This document, inspired by Pope Francis, emphasises a ‘more outward focus’ and sets out a roadmap for the next three years.
Year of Prayer Advent 2018 – Advent 2019
Year of Communion Advent 2019 – Advent 2020
When thinking about pastoral care within out community we are called to reflect on the words of Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium
“I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord.”