Most Catholic Parts of England

Most Catholic parts of England according to populations studies done recently show that London has more religious and social conservatives than any other part of the United Kingdom. Christians are more likely to regularly attend religious services and pray in the nation’s capital, according to a new survey conducted by the Christian think tank Theos.

Despite widespread assumptions that Londoners hold more liberal views than the rest of the country, the study found just the opposite. Nearly twice as many Londoners as those living elsewhere in the country agreed that having sexual relations outside of marriage is bad (24 per cent compared to 13 per cent).

There were still many strongly Catholic areas in Scotland that were largely unaffected by the reformation. There were many predominantly Catholic localities in Scotland, including the islands of Barra, Vatersay, and South Uist as well as the mainland regions of Glenlivet, Lochaber, Strathglass, and Morar (“Blessed Morar where the voice of the priest has never been heard”).

In Which Areas of The United Kingdom Do Catholics Predominate?

Presbyterians and Catholics live side by side in Northern Ireland. The Protestants also have a history in Ireland, however it is not as long-standing as the Catholics’ because their forebears were encouraged by the British government to settle in Ulster from Scotland and England in the seventeenth century. Catholics are a sizable minority, although Protestants are the majority. Catholics and Protestants live side by side alongside one another in Northern Ireland.

The United Kingdom (even if it wasn’t named that at the time) became Protestant due to Henry the VIII’s separation from Rome in the early 16th century. This was an era of great religious strife in Europe, with the Protestant Reformation having begun with Martin Luther’s spark in 1517 and the Roman Catholic Church in disarray. Henry the VIII established the Church of England, and the rest of the United Kingdom became Protestant during the next century and a half or so, with the exception of Catholic Ireland.

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Cities like London, Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, and Glasgow saw massive influxes of Irish people in the 19th and 20th centuries, creating sizable Catholic communities. However, as the 20th century progressed, these communities mingled with the established population and the flood of foreign newcomers, so that now there are no longer any predominantly Catholic areas. In any case, the United Kingdom is becoming a less religious culture, with church attendance declining significantly over the previous century.

#CatholicsPopulationPercent CatholicDioceseYearSource
1506,3191,100,00046.03%Liverpool (Archdiocese)2004ap2005
2465,5874,613,28410.09%Westminster (Archdiocese)2004ap2005
3385,3844,048,9009.52%Southwark (Archdiocese)2004ap2005*
4287,7172,208,00013.03%Salford2004ap2005
5286,5005,245,0005.46%Birmingham (Archdiocese)2004ap2005
6234,6171,838,00012.76%Shrewsbury2004ap2005
7224,344779,49028.78%Glasgow (Archdiocese)2003ap2004
8222,7192,710,0008.22%Brentwood2004ap2005
9219,3142,241,4919.78%Hexham and Newcastle2004ap2005
10173,5392,000,7698.67%Northampton2004ap2005
11167,6322,960,0775.66%Portsmouth2004ap2005
12165,100633,00026.08%Motherwell2004ap2005
13154,9572,000,0007.75%Leeds2004ap2005
14146,6723,000,0004.89%Arundel and Brighton2004ap2005
15134,4703,609,0003.73%Nottingham2004ap2005
16133,9441,956,1666.85%Clifton2003ap2004
17117,0002,755,0004.25%East Anglia2004ap2005
18112,9781,434,3477.88%Saint Andrews and Edinburgh (Archdiocese)2004ap2005
19111,2641,050,00010.60%Lancaster2004ap2005
2086,5361,398,2036.19%Cardiff (Archdiocese)2004ap2005
2181,9951,134,0007.23%Middlesbrough2004ap2005
2279,400342,00023.22%Paisley2004ap2005
2366,0001,500,0004.40%Hallam2004ap2005
2453,6792,548,2002.11%Plymouth2004ap2005
2547,856520,0009.20%Galloway2004ap2005
2643,000400,00010.75%Dunkeld2004ap2005
2730,272692,8004.37%Wrexham2004ap2005
2826,266788,5503.33%Menevia2004ap2005
2915,000Great Britain, Faithful of Eastern Rite (Ukrainian) (Apostolic Exarchate)2002ap2003
3011,173700,0001.60%Aberdeen2004ap2005
3110,43475,00013.91%Argyll and the Isles2004ap2005
Source: Catholic Hierarchy

Places of Worship for The Catholic Faith

Catholic parish churches and chapels-of-ease account for the vast majority of England and Wales’ 3,342 public Mass sites (Mostly Roman-rite Catholic, but also Syro-Malabar, Ukranian, Lithuanian rites and churches of different language groups, e.g. Polish Catholic missions).

There are 64 entries in the Catholic Directory for institutions’ chapels (University, hospital, Institute, Armed Services Chapels) where the public is welcome to attend Mass. There are 30 listings for churches that advertise Masses in this way. Several non-Catholic churches also offer hospitality, so Catholic communities can hold weekend Masses in those buildings (The directories list 26 Anglican churches, 6 Methodist, 1 URC, 1 Congregational, and 2 Ecumenical Churches). Throughout the week, seven Catholic weekend masses are promoted in community centers. There are now 3342 venues listed in Catholic online directories for Mass, making the average number of attendees per venue roughly 890,000. This estimate is based on the total Catholic Mass attendance in England and Wales in 2010. There are 266 weekly Mass goers.

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Where Do Catholics Go to Mass if There Aren’t Any Churches in Their Towns?

There are currently 579 rural locations listed in Catholic directories in England and Wales that provide public weekend Masses. The majority (538) of these places of worship are affiliated with Catholic parishes and function as churches or chapels of ease. Churches of 15 different denominations regularly host Catholic congregations for Sunday Mass. (12 Anglican, 2 Methodist, 1 URC). Fifteen of these Masses are held in houses of worship, six in military chaplain offices, four in academic institutions, and one at a community center.

How Many Devout Country Folk Make the Trip to The City for Sunday Mass?

No information is available. The directories reveal, for example, that even the most rural dioceses do not necessarily have the highest concentration of rural Masses. Upon learning that only 30 communities in all of (mainly rural) Wales have a church where Mass is regularly held, I was quite taken aback. In a similarly rural county like Cornwall, only 5 villages (plus 1 in the Silly Isles) are known to have Mass, and in a more urban county like Devon, only 8 communities do so. Here in Staffordshire, England, there are just two Catholic churches for every ten people. Towards the south, my diocese includes six in the West Midlands, ten in Warwickshire, eleven in Oxfordshire, nine in Worcestershire, and one in what was formerly Oxfordshire but is now Berkshire because of county border changes.

It is apparent that not all Catholics living in rural areas have easy access to a Sunday Mass in their own or surrounding communities, as there are over 16,000 villages in England yet only 549 of them have a Catholic Sunday gathering. From my pastoral experience and conversations with priest acquaintances, I have learned that up to a third of the members of Catholic congregations in market towns come from outside the town proper. Some Catholic churches have “parish areas” that span over 100 square miles and include a dozen or more villages; it is not uncommon for 70 or 80 people out of a congregation of 250 to travel 10 kilometers or more from the countryside to attend a Sunday Mass held in town.

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A small number of urban churches experience this to a lesser level. In 2001, when foot and mouth disease was at its height, I was serving in a city parish (Worcester). The parish boundaries extended 12 miles east of the city and encompassed several smaller communities. In the wake of the foot-and-mouth epidemic that year, many members of the congregation had an abrupt awakening to the fact that our community also comprised farmers whose operations had been shut down for weeks. About half (or more likely, a third) of the 650 parishioners who regularly attend Mass are country folk. These sprang to prominence in 2001 as a pastoral issue (and were helped with prayer and practical support). Many of our urban parishioners did not realize we had such a small but significant rural minority until recently.

In my experience, I have found that between one-third and one-half of rural Catholics travel to larger urban centers for Sunday Mass. That said, it’s not easy to put a number on this.

DioceseCity Mass VenuesTown Mass VenuesVillage Mass Venues
Arundel & Brighton1710750
Birmingham15710853
Brentwood379313
Cardiff18249
Clifton617232
East Anglia235525
Hallam313522
Hexham & Newcastle729049
Lancaster305426
Leeds555319
Liverpool857630
Menevia11248
Middlesborough235220
Northampton7827
Nottingham487430
Plymouth197517
Portsmouth249545
Salford709518
Shrewsbury139112
Southwark1398648
Westminster2806813
Wrexham34213
Source: Rural Catholics

About how Many Catholics in Rural Areas Regularly Attend Services?

An accurate estimation of this figure is difficult to get. Certainly, Catholic communities in rural areas are more intimate than those in urban or suburban settings. Few rural Catholic churches host multiple Sunday Masses, in contrast to those in urban areas. A critical mass of parishioners is required for the economic viability of holding Mass in a given village, as the weekly collection at Mass is often the sole source of income for the church and its clergy.

There is no way to get specific attendance numbers for any church or venue from the online diocesan directories. Of the 53 villages mentioned in the 2017 hardcover edition of my diocese’s directory (Birmingham), 30 have average Sunday Mass attendance data. Across these 30 village locations, the average number of worshippers is 127, with attendance ranging from 41 to 370. However, using the average of all 53 locations is an overestimate by about 127 people. Of the 23 village venues, I know that more have attendance statistics below this “average” than above it.

In England and Wales, a total of 73 533 people would be predicted to attend village Masses using the 127 attendance statistic (579 times 127). A sample size of 30 villages is obviously insufficient for a reliable scale-up. From what I can tell, the final tally is likely high by as much as a third. If I had to make a preliminary guess, I’d say that every week, between 45,000 and 60,000 Catholics from the 22 dioceses in England and Wales make their way to a rural area to celebrate the Eucharist at a small town church. Because of the lesser size of the average village congregation compared to those of larger urban centers, only about 15%-25% of the Catholic population actually attends Mass in a rural setting each week.

That said, it’s not easy to put a number on this.

Conclusion

The total number of practicing rural Catholics in England and Wales is between 68,000 and 121,000, if my experience and gut are generally true, and data offers us a ballpark figure which isn’t too far from reality. Between ten and fourteen percent of England and Wales’ Catholic population regularly participates in the Mass. Assuming a weekly attendance rate of 21% (based on statistics from 2010), the number of baptized Catholics in rural England and Wales can be estimated to be between 324 000 and 571 000.

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