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Why are some cathedrals (and
other churches) called minsters?
"Minster" was the Anglo-Saxon version
of "monastery", and was originally applied to churches served by
monks. In the ninth century, many monasteries turned into more
worldly institutions whose clergy were known as "clerks" or
"canons", and these continued to be known as minsters, too, so that
by 1066 it was possible for a minster to be either a monastic
community (Westminster Abbey) or one of canons (York Minster).
Most monasteries and minsters came to
an end at the Reformation, but the name continued to be used for
York, for a few surviving minsters such as Southwell and Wimborne,
and for former minsters such as Beverley or Iwerne Minster. The
name is now largely historic, indicating a church that in the
remote past was a monastery or community of canons; but in recent
years it has been revived as a title for what is considered to be
an important church, such as the mother church of a town.
I am not aware that any law lays down
what may or may not be a minster, or that a church so named
acquires a different legal status.
(Professor) Nicholas Orme (Lay
Minsters are churches founded mainly
during the conversion of the Anglo-Saxons in the seventh and eighth
centuries. They were often founded at a royal or noble residence,
since the conversion relied so much on the good will of the local
ruler. A group of priests worked from the minster, going out into
the surrounding area to convert or to minister to people.
Gradually, more churches were built,
and the parish system developed, but minsters sometimes kept their
old name. Some are still famous, such as York Minster, but some
have become very obscure, such as (Old) Woking in Surrey.
It is possible to some extent to
reconstruct the pattern of minster churches from the old
administrative unit of the hundred, as the hundred was sometimes
called after the minster. Other clues may be a large parish and a
(Dr) Mary Alexander
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