Clifton Diocese

Province of Birmingham

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.

There are 104 parishes within 9 deaneries serving a Catholic population of around 190,000. Around 33,000 people attend Mass around the diocese every weekend. More than 2,000 people are actively involved in Catholic associations in the diocese.

Clifton Diocese is a company limited by guarantee registered in England and Wales with registered number 10462076 and a registered charity number 1170168. Our registered office is at St. Ambrose, North Road, Leigh Woods, Bristol BS8 3PW.

Our diocesan pastoral guidelines are at the heart of our activities. You can explore these in our ‘Called to be a People of Hope’ section.

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If you wish to donate to the Priest Retirement Fund and Clergy Training Fund, you can do so below:

Brief History of Clifton Diocese:

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.


Beatified Martyrs:

Diocesan Martyrs. Beatified by Pope Leo XIII or Pope John Paul II.Thomas Alfield
Seminary priest, Douai. Born Gloucester 1552. Ministered in Gloucestershire. Executed, Tyburn 6 July 1585.

Richard Bere

Carthusian Monk, was a nephew of Abbot Bere of Glastonbury, where he was born and attended the Abbey School. He was a priest of the London Charterhouse and was starved to death with eight other monks for upholding the Supremacy of the Pope. He died in Newgate prison on 9 August 1537.John Bodey
Schoolmaster. Born Wells. Studied law, Douai. Executed, Andover 2 November 1583.

James Fenn
Seminary priest, Rheims. Probably ministered in Somerset. Arrested at Brympton. Executed, Tyburn 12 February 1584.

John Gavan
Jesuit. Born London 1640, but family from Norrington, Wiltsshire. Ministered in Staffordshire. Executed in connection with Popish Plot, 20 June 1679.

John Hambley
Seminary priest, Douai. Born St Mabyn near Bodmin, Cornwall, circa 1560. Arrested at Chard, released and again arrested. Executed Salisbury March 1587.

William Hart
Seminary priest, Rheims, and then English College, Rome. Born Wells. Ministered in Yorkshire. After lengthy imprisonment executed, York 15 March 1583.

William Lampley
Layman. Probably born at Gloucester, was tried for ‘persuading his kin to popery’. Executed at Gloucester sometime in 1588.

John Pibush
Was born at Thirsk and ordained at Rheims and then ministered in England. He was arrested at Moreton-in-Marsh, taken to London then brought to Gloucester. He escaped from the local jail, but was recaptured and sent back to London. After five years in jail was executed in 1601.

Margaret Pole
Countess of Salisbury. Born Farleigh Castle, Somerset. Daughter of Duke of Clarence. Governess to the Princess Mary, later Mary Tudor. Mother of Cardinal Reginald Pole, last Catholic Archbishop of Canterbury. Executed, Tower of London 28 May 1541.

Edward Powell
Seminary priest of Welsh birth. Taught at Eton and Oxford. Rector of Bleadon, Somerset. Vicar of St Mary Redcliffe. Executed, Smithfield 30 July 1540.

Philip Powell
Monk of St Gregory’s, Douai. Born in Breconshire. Ministered for 20 years at Leigh Barton on Exmoor. Executed, Tyburn 30 June 1646.

Alexander Rawlins
Seminary priest, Rheims. Rather tenuous connections with diocese. Probably born Oxford 1560. Ministered mainly in the North East. Executed, York 7 April 1595.

Stephen Rowsham
Seminary priest. Born in Oxfordshire circa 1555. Took orders in the established church but converted and went to Douai Abbey. Was imprisoned in The Tower, banished but returned. Executed, Gloucester 1587.

John Sandys
Seminary priest. Born in Lancashire between 1550 and 1555, studied at Oxford and Douai. Arrested in Gloucestershire. Executed 11 August 1586, Gloucester.

Richard Sergeant
Seminary priest. Born in Gloucestershire in the late 1550’s. Studied at Douai Abbey. Ordained at Laon in 1583. He worked on English mission for three years, arrested and tried. Executed at Tyburn, 20 April 1586.

John Storey
Layman. Born Salisbury. Educated Oxford. MP for Hindon, Wiltshire. Exiled for his religion and executed for treason, Tyburn 1 June 1571.

Henry Webley
Layman. Born Gloucester, circa 1558. Charged with sheltering a priest, condemned and executed in London 28 August 1588.

Richard Whiting
Abbot and monks of Glastonbury.
Last of long line of abbots, probably born Wrington, Somerset. With John Thorne, treasurer of the Abbey, and Roger James, sacrist, executed on the Tor following trial at Wells, 15 November 1539.


Canonised Saints:

St Hugh of Lincoln
Born in Burgundy about 1135. Became a Carthusian monk. Took charge of the Charterhouse at Witham near Frome when called by Henry II. Made Bishop of Lincoln in 1186. He was an able and kind shepherd to his people. He died in 1220 at Lincoln’s Inn Fields in London. Canonised 1220.

St Alexander Briant
Born in Somerset 1556, educated at Oxford and English College Douai. After ordination returned to Somerset. He reconciled many to the church. Taken prisoner in London in 1579, barbarously tortured, executed on 1 December 1581. Canonised 1970.

St Osmund
Born in Normandy. Came to England with William the Conqueror. Became Chancellor, then Bishop of Salisbury 1078. He loved books and liturgy. Took part in the preparation of the Domesday Book. A devoted pastor. He built the Cathedral at Old Sarum. Canonised 1456.

St Edmund of Abingdon
Born in Abingdon 1170. Educated Oxford and Paris. Became Professor of Science at Oxford. Returned to Paris to study Theology. Appointed treasurer of Salisbury Cathedral, served as rector of Calne, then became Archbishop of Canterbury 1233. Died at Soissy 1240 on his way to Rome. Canonised 1246.

St Wulstan
Born Itchington, Warwickshire, 1008. Became a Benedictine monk at Worcester. Bishop of Worcester 1062. First bishop to make systematic visitations of his diocese. He fought slave trade in Bristol. He built many parish churches and refounded the monastery at Westbury-on-Trym, Bristol. Died 1095. Canonised 1203.

St Alphege
Born AD 953. Became a monk at Deerhurst, Gloucestershire circa AD 970 and eventually Abbot of Bath. In AD 984 became Bishop of Winchester. Known for his personal austerity and almsgiving. In 1005 he became Archbishop of Canterbury. Was captured by the Danes who murdered him at Greenwich 1012 because he would not let a ransom be paid for his release.

St Dunstan
Born near Glastonbury AD 909. Educated at the Abbey. Ordained priest at Winchester. Appointed Abbot at Glastonbury, restored monastic life there. Many abbeys to his credit including Malmesbury, Westminster, Bath and Exeter. The rite of coronation is based on that drawn up by Dunstan for Edgar whom he crowned King of Wessex in the Saxon abbey church in Bath, AD 973. He collaborated with the King in reforms of church life and law making. Died AD 988.

St Aldhelm
AD 639 to AD 709. Became a monk at Malmesbury, completing his education at Canterbury. Circa AD 675 he became Abbot of Malmesbury and made many foundations at Frome and Bradford-on-Avon. When Wessex was divided he became Bishop of Sherborne. In his letter to Geraint he bore testimony to the primacy of the See of Rome. It is thought he invented the crossword puzzle. He died at Doulting near Wells AD 709.

St Edith
A natural daughter of Edgar, King of England. Brought up at Wilton where her mother became Abbess. She refused to become Queen after the murder of her half brother Edward. She was noted for her personal services to the poor and fondness of wild animals. She died in AD 984.

St Oliver Plunkett
Born in Loughcrew, County Meath, Ireland in 1629. Studied in Rome, ordained in 1654. Professor of Theology in Rome. Consecrated Archbishop of Armagh 1669. He tried to restore the church laid waste by continuous persecution. He was arrested on a charge of complicity in a sham plot. Eventually he was brought to London and a second trial found him guilty of treason. Executed at Tyburn 1681. Canonised 1975. Some of his remains enshrined at Downside Abbey.

St Wulfric
Born in Compton Martin circa 1080 to 1154.  A Somerset priest who became a hermit.  First ministered in Derervill near Warminster.  In about 1135 settled an anchorite next to the church at Haselbuty Pluckett near Yeovil.