Find out more about the history of the diocese


Christian communities in communion with the Bishop of Rome have been present in the South West since the early days of Christianity in this country. The present Diocesan structure dates back to the mid-nineteenth century, but its heritage and history is rooted in those first Christian communities.

The story of the Catholic Church in the South-West in its present form dates back to the time of the Reformation when those who maintained their allegiance to the Bishop of Rome as successor to Peter, and the Latin liturgy and dogmas, were seen – and saw themselves – as being outside the Church of England as established by King and parliament. At that time several Catholics were martyred for their faith in all three counties. Notable among them was Cuthbert Mayne, a native of North Devon, who was arrested in Cornwall and hung drawn and quartered in Launceston. He is one of the patron saints of the Diocese. Over the next few centuries the Catholic Church continued in the South-West with the support some local Catholic aristocratic families – notably the Welds in Dorset, the Cliffords in Devon and the Arundells in Cornwall. During the European upheaval associated with the French and Napoleonic wars, many refugees Catholic settled in the area, including several religious congregations. In 1851 the Roman Catholic Hierarchy was restored in this country, which meant that normal church structure was set up of Bishops and their Dioceses with priests and congregations. Over the years since then the numbers of parishes, churches, religious congregations and schools have grown to the present state. Details of churches and parishes, schools and religious houses can be found through our find pages just click the links. 

 There is a Diocesan archive with a great deal of information on the history of the Diocese, and they can be accessed by the clicking here. The story of some of the Diocesan martyrs and the history of the nine bishops of the Diocese can be accessed here.