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Dean in United Kingdom


Dean (Lat. decanus, derived from the Gr. δέκα, ten), the style of a certain functionary, primarily ecclesiastical. Whether the term was first used among the secular clergy to signify the priest who had a charge of inspection and superintendence over two parishes, or among the regular clergy to signify the monk who in a monastery had authority over ten other monks, appears doubtful. “Decurius” may be found in early writers used to signify the same thing as “decanus,” which shows that the word and the idea signified by it were originally borrowed from the old Roman military system. (…)

There are four sorts of deans of whom the law of England takes notice.

(1) The dean and chapter are a council subordinate to the bishop, assistant to him in matters spiritual relating to religion, and in matters temporal relating to the temporalities of the bishopric. The dean and chapter are a corporation, and the dean himself is a corporation sole. Deans are said to be either of the old or of the new foundation—the latter being those created and regulated after the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII. The deans of the old foundation before the Ecclesiastical Commissioners Act 1841 were elected by the chapter on the king’s congé d’élire; and the deans of the new foundation (and, since the act, of the old foundation also) are appointed by the king’s letters patent. It was at one time held that a layman might be dean; but since 1662 priest’s orders are a necessary qualification. Deaneries are sinecures in the old sense, i.e. they are without cure of souls. The chapter formerly consisted of canons and prebendaries, the dean being the head and an integral part of the corporation. By the Ecclesiastical Commissioners Act 1841, it is enacted that “all the members of the chapter except the dean, in every collegiate and cathedral church in England, and in the cathedral churches of St David and Llandaff, shall be styled canons.” By the same act the dean is required to be in residence eight months, and the canons three months, in every year. The bishop is visitor of the dean and chapter.

(2) A dean of peculiars is the chief of certain peculiar churches or chapels. He “hath no chapter, yet is presentative, and hath cure of souls; he hath a peculiar, and is not subject to the visitation of the bishop of the diocese.” The only instances of such deaneries are Battle (Sussex), Bocking (Essex) and Stamford (Rutland). The deans of Jersey and Guernsey have similar status.

(3) The third dean “hath no cure of souls, but hath a court and a peculiar, in which he holdeth plea and jurisdiction of all such ecclesiastical matters as come within his peculiar. Such is the dean of the arches, who is the judge of the court of the arches, the chief court and consistory of the archbishop of Canterbury, so called of Bow Church, where this court was ever wont to be held.” (See Arches, Court of.) The parish of Bow and twelve others were within the peculiar jurisdiction of the archbishop in spiritual causes, and exempted out of the bishop of London’s jurisdiction. They were in 1845 made part of the diocese of London.

(4) Rural deans are clergymen whose duty is described as being “to execute the bishop’s processes and to inspect the lives and manners of the clergy and people within their jurisdiction.” (See Phillimore’s Ecclesiastical Law.)

In the colleges of the English universities one of the fellows usually holds the office of “dean,” and is specially charged with the discipline, as distinguished from the teaching functions of the tutors. In some universities the head of a faculty is called “dean,” and in each of these cases the word is used in a non-ecclesiastical and purely titular sense.(1)


Notes and References

  1. Encyclopedia Britannica (1911)

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  • Article Name: Dean
  • Author: International
  • Description: History Dean (Lat. decanus, derived from the Gr. δέκα, ten), the style of a certain functionary, primarily ecclesiastical. [...]

This entry was last updated: October 24, 2016


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