26 September 2023, The Tablet

Pope grants cathedral status to Isle of Man church

St Mary of the Isle in Douglas will be the first Catholic co-cathedral in the British Isles.

Pope grants cathedral status to Isle of Man church

St Mary’s has been granted cathedral status.
Drone pic by Glenn courtesy of St Mary’s.

The Pope has granted cathedral status to a church on the Isle of Man.

The Church of St Mary of the Isle in Douglas will now be a co-cathedral of the Archdiocese of Liverpool, making it the second cathedral on the island, alongside the Anglican Cathedral of St German in Peel, and the first Catholic co-cathedral in the British Isles.

Mgr John Devine, the parish priest of St Mary’s, approached the Archbishop of Liverpool Malcolm McMahon to request cathedral status for the church after Douglas – the island’s administrative capital – was awarded city status as part of the late Queen’s platinum jubilee celebrations in June 2022.

“I was first approached by Douglas Borough Council who pointed out that cities have cathedrals [and] the island already has an Anglican cathedral in Peel,” said Mgr Devine, explaining that this led them to ask if St Mary’s might become a cathedral.

He told The Tablet that he initially dismissed the idea, but further reading on the subject revealed the precedent for co-cathedrals where dioceses are merged or where a diocese spans separate jurisdictions. The Isle of Man is not part of the United Kingdom but a self-governing crown dependency with its own parliament, the Tynwald.

St Mary’s is located across the road from the Legislative Buildings which house the Tynwald, which Mgr Devine said put it “in pole position to be the cathedral”.

“The people who worshipped in this church since 1859 would be amazed to think it would be a cathedral,” he said.

Archbishop McMahon submitted the request to the Vatican, with the support of Manx politicians and the Anglican Bishop of Sodor and Man Peter Eagles, who said that St Mary’s “has a dignity and spaciousness that is as appropriate for a cathedral as for a parish church”.

Pic by John M courtesy of St Mary’s.John M courtesy of St Mary’s.

Pope Francis granted the request and the new status was announced at the 11am Mass last Sunday, with the church “crammed full” for a civic service, said Mgr Devine. 

He added that he has found “relationships more important than structures” in fostering strong ecumenical and civic relations.  He has served as official chaplain to the Mayor of Douglas for the past three years, the first Catholic priest to be offered the role.

In a statement announcing the new status, Mgr Devine said: “It is not just an honour for Douglas, but it acknowledges the unique faith history of the Isle of Man.”  St Mary’s will now house a cathedra, the bishop’s throne.

Manx Christianity dates from the fifth century, tracing its roots to St Maughhold – a disciple of St Patrick who was sent to sea in an open coracle as penance and landed on the island.  The Diocese of Sodor and Man is linked to Nicholas Breakspear, the twelfth-century English bishop who became Pope Adrian IV, originally spanning the western isles of Scotland as a suffragan diocese of Trondheim.

Mgr Devine said that in more recent history the island had been a stronghold of nonconformist congregations and subject to sectarian divisions, but now enjoyed good ecumenical relations.

There are six Catholic churches on the Isle of Man with an “increasingly diverse” Catholic population, with many immigrants from Eastern Europe and the Philippines who work in the island’s service sector and its many care homes.

Mgr Devine moved to the island eight years ago.  He previously served as a priest in South America and held numerous roles in the Archdiocese of Liverpool, including the running of the buildings of the former seminary St Joseph’s College, Upholland, as a retreat and conference centre before its closure in 1996.  This summer he celebrated his seventy-fifth birthday and golden jubilee of his ordination.

Though it makes up a third of the archdiocese’s land mass, Mgr Devine said that the Isle of Man was often an afterthought in Liverpool, 80 miles away.  Rather than entrenching separation, he said that his church’s cathedral status – with a cathedra and the archbishop’s coat-of-arms permanently in place – would affirm its place in the archdiocese.

In turn, he would like to see something “definitely Manx” in Liverpool’s Cathedral of Christ the King.

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