Size doesn’t matter for ‘minster’ status

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From: Geoffrey F. Bryant, Queen Street, Barton-on-Humber.

I READ in your columns (Yorkshire Post, February 23) that it is hoped that Holy Trinity church in Hull can be next in line to join our ever-growing band of “minster” churches. To be historically accurate, Holy Trinity must be amongst the least of all English churches to qualify for that title.

At its very, very simplest a minster was an Anglo-Saxon institution in which a church with a resident community of clerics of various sorts served the spiritual needs (mainly Mass, baptism and burial) of those living in the settlements surrounding it. While one of those clerics might travel out to celebrate a Mass (perhaps in a modest chapel or beside a standing cross) in one of the minster’s dependant vills, the income-producing sacraments of baptism and burial and the ability to collect tithes would remain the monopoly of the minster church.

Eventually, when all of the minster’s formerly dependent settlements had become independent parishes with their own “full rights” churches, the former minster became no more than a parish church serving the community in which it was located.

If any of these new parish churches served a large area, a chapel-of-ease might be provided for its outlying parishioners in which Masses could be celebrated but which, like the old minsters, could not baptise, bury or collect tithes. Those latter money-making rights were retained by the “mother church”.

Although Holy Trinity church in Hull can claim to be the “country’s largest parish church”, when built it was no more than a chapel-of-ease of its “mother” church – All Saints’ church in Hessle – and it did not gain full parish status until 1661.