Spreading the Word: Bishops from across the Globe

Past display archive
15 July 2013 - 30 March 2014

Room 23: case display


William Moore Richardson
by Elliott & Fry
circa 1890s
NPG x159418

Joseph Sakunoshin Motoda
by Unknown photographer
circa 1920s
NPG x159318

The Anglican Church began its spread across the world after the Church of England separated from Rome in the sixteenth century. The first manifestation of Anglicanism was in North America in 1607 but no overseas bishops were appointed for the next 150 years; colonial churches instead reported to the Bishop of London. The first bishop of an overseas territory was consecrated in 1784 by the newly formed American Protestant Episcopal Church which had split from the Church of England after the American War of Independence.

The loss of the American colonies led the Church of England to seek to strengthen its role overseas. The Consecration of Bishops Abroad Act was passed in 1786 and the Church began a more concerted effort to appoint bishops for overseas dioceses. However, by 1840 there were only ten colonial bishops; this slow progress led the Bishop of London, Charles Blomfield, to publicly declare that ‘an Episcopal church without a bishop is a contradiction in terms.’

In the nineteenth century, despite a rapid increase in the consecration of overseas bishops, the Church was reluctant to give overseas dioceses any independence. By the end of the century interest in missionary work had waned, as had efforts to increase the number of native-born clergy. In the twentieth century the Church had renewed its overseas efforts and there was a gradual understanding of the need to give autonomy to overseas dioceses.  

This display presents a selection of works from a collection of portraits of Anglican bishops that was donated to the National Portrait Gallery by the Corporation of Church House in 1949.

The collection of portraits of Bishops can be explored further here.

Photographs Collection: Display

© National Portrait Gallery, London