Bishop of Galloway

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The Bishop of Galloway, also called the Bishop of Whithorn, was the eccesiastical head of the Diocese of Galloway, said to have been founded by Saint Ninian in the mid-5th century. The subsequent Anglo-Saxon bishopric was founded in the late 7th century or early 8th century, and the first known bishop was one Pehthelm, "shield of the Picts". According to Anglo-Saxon ecclesiastical tradition, the bishopric was founded by Saint Ninian, a later corruption of the British name Uinniau or Irish Finian; although there is no contemporary evidence, it is quite likely that there had been a British or Hiberno-British bishopric before the Anglo-Saxon takeover. After Heathored (fl. 833), no bishop is known until the apparent resurrection of the diocese in the reign of King Fergus of Galloway. The bishops remained, uniquely for Scottish bishops, the suffragans of the Archbishop of York until 1359 when the pope released the bishopric from requiring metropolitan assent.[1] James I formalised the admission of the diocese into the Scottish church on 26 August 1430 and just as all Scottish sees, Whithorn was to be accountable directly to the pope.[2] The diocese was placed under the metropolitan jurisdiction of St Andrews on 17 August 1472 and then moved to the province of Glasgow on 9 January 1492.[2] The diocese disappeared during the Scottish Reformation, but was recreated by the Catholic Church in 1878 with its cathedra at Dumfries, although it is now based at Ayr.

Pre-Reformation bishops[edit]

List of known Anglo-Saxon bishops of Whithorn[edit]

Tenure Incumbent Notes
731 – 735 Pehthelm Died in office.
d. 762 x 764 Frithwald
d. 776 x 777 Pehtwine
bp. 777 Æthelberht of Whithorn Was translated to the bishopric of Hexham around 789.
790 – c. 803 Beadwulf Last known Bishop of the Northumbrian era.

Heathored is described as the successor to Beadwulf by some accounts. His inclusion on the list as a Bishop of Whithorn is not credible.

List of known bishops of Galloway/Whithorn[edit]

Tenure Incumbent Notes
1128–1154 Gille Aldan
1154–1186 Christian of Whithorn
1189–1209 John of Whithorn
1209–1235 Walter of Whithorn
1235–1253 Gilbert of Glenluce
1235 Odo Ydonc (bishop-elect) Elected in opposition to Gilbert, lost litigation and therefore was never consecrated, and never took possession of see.
1253–1293 Henry of Holyrood
1294–1324 x 1326 Thomas de Kirkcudbright Also called Thomas de Dalton and Thomas de Galloway.
1326–1355 Simon de Wedale Previously Abbot of Holyrood.
1355–1358 x 1359 Michael MacKenlagh
1358 x 1359–1362 x 1363 Thomas MacDowell (bishop-elect)
1363–1378 Adam de Lanark
el. 1378x1379; cons. 1379 Oswald of Glenluce Anti-Bishop of the Western Schism. Consecrated with the support of the Archbishop of York and Pope Urban VI, in opposition to the other Galloway bishops, who were supporter of the Avignon Pope. Never took possession of see.
1378 x 1379 Ingram de Ketenis Received papal provision, but refused to accept the position.
1379–1393 x 1394 Thomas de Rossy
1409–1412 x 1415 Elisaeus Adougan
1412 x 1415 Gilbert Cavan (bishop-elect) Pope Benedict XIII rejected his election in favour of Thomas de Buittle.
1415–1422 x 1422 Thomas de Buittle
1422–1450 Alexander Vaus Previously Bishop of Caithness.
1450–1457/8 Thomas Spens Translated to the Bishopric of Aberdeen in 1457.
1457 Thomas Vaus Dean of Glasgow, provided to bishopric on translation of Spens to Aberdeen in 1457; as this translation was not effective, and had to be repeated in 1458, but Vaus' provision was not repeated.
1458–1480 x 1482 Ninian Spot
1482–1508 George Vaus
1508–1509 James Beaton Became Archbishop of Glasgow.
1509–1526 David Arnot
1526–1541 Henry Wemyss
1541–1558 Andrew Durie
1559–1560 Alexander Gordon Formerly Archbishop of Glasgow (1550–51), titular Archbishop of Athens (1551–53) and Bishop of the Isles (1553–59); appointed Bishop of Galloway by the Holy See in 1559; he became a Protestant when the Church of Scotland broke links with the Roman Catholic Church in 1560.

Post-Reformation bishops[edit]

Church of Scotland succession[edit]

Tenure Incumbent Notes
1560–1575 Alexander Gordon Died in office
1575–1586 John Gordon Roger Gordon got crown provision and a mandate for consecration, but never actually seems to have taken control of the see. John Gordon resigned in 1586 in favour of his brother George.
1578–1579 × 1587 Roger Gordon Got crown provision in 1578, but does not appear to have been able to oust John Gordon.
1586–1588 George Gordon
1588–1605 See vacant Due to hostility to episcopacy in Scotland, there was a lull in appointing new bishops in this period, though no bishops in possession were deposed.
1605–1612 Gavin Hamilton
1612–1619 William Couper
1619–1634 Andrew Lamb Translated from the bishopric of Brechin.
1635–1638 Thomas Sydserf Along with every other bishop in Scotland, he was deprived of his bishopric in 1638. He became bishop of Orkney in 1661 after The Restoration and the renewal of episcopacy. He died in 1663.
1638–1661 See abolished The episcopacy was abolished in Scotland for this period.
1661–1674 James Hamilton First bishop after the renewal of episcopacy.
1676–1679 John Paterson Translated to the bishopric of Edinburgh.
1679 Arthur Rose Previously Bishop of Argyll. He was translated to the Archbishopric of Glasgow, and later became Archbishop of St Andrews.
1680–1687 James Aitken Previous Bishop of Moray. Resided mostly in Edinburgh.
1687/8–1689 John Gordon Deprived of the temporalities in 1689 when episcopacy was permanently abolished in the Church of Scotland following the Glorious Revolution.

Scottish Episcopal Church succession[edit]

Tenure Incumbent Notes
1689–1697 'John Gordon After the Glorious Revolution, he continued as a nonjuring bishop until resigned the see in 1697. Later converted to Roman Catholicism and took the name James Clement Gordon.
1697–1731 See administered by the bishops of Edinburgh
1731–1733 David Freebairn Also Primus (1731–1738) and Bishop of Edinburgh (1733–1739)
1733–1837 See administered by the bishops of Edinburgh
In 1837, the see became part of the united bishopric of Glasgow and Galloway

Restored Roman Catholic succession[edit]

The modern Bishop of Galloway is the Ordinary of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Galloway in the Province of Saint Andrews and Edinburgh.

The diocese was resurrected on 4 March 1878 from the Vicariate Apostolic of the Western District. The church of Saint Andrew in Dumfries served as pro-cathedral until it was destroyed by a fire in May 1961 and the seat moved to Ayr in 1962. The current bishop, appointed 2014, is the Right Reverend William Nolan the 8th Bishop of Galloway. The diocese covers an area of 9,332 km². The see is in the Ecclesiastical City of Ayr. Until 2007 the seat was located at the Cathedral Church of the Good Shepherd which was built in 1957. In early 2007 Pope Benedict XVI accepted the petition of Right Reverend John Cunningham, the 7th Bishop of Galloway, to move the seat to St Margaret's Church, Ayr. After this took place, the Church of the Good Shepherd was closed and largely demolished.

(Any dates appearing in italics indicate de facto continuation of office. The start date of tenure below is the date of appointment or succession. Where known, the date of installation and ordination as bishop are listed in the notes together with the post held prior to appointment.)

Tenure Incumbent Notes
22 March 1878 to 16 January 1893 John McLachlan Priest; ordained 23 May 1878; died in office
16 June 1893 to 19 January 1914 William Turner Priest; ordained 25 July 1893; died in office
25 May 1914 to 24 December 1943 James McCarthy Priest; ordained 9 June 1914; died in office
24 December 1943 to 2 February 1952 William Mellon Coadjutor Bishop of Galloway; died in office
19 July 1952 to 4 April 1981 Joseph McGee Priest;ordained 11 November 1952; retired
4 April 1981 to 7 April 2004 Maurice Taylor Priest; ordained 9 June 1981; retired
7 April 2004 to 22 November 2014 John Cunningham Priest; ordained 28 May 2004; retired
22 November 2014 to present William Nolan Priest; ordained 22 February 2015

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Barrell, Medieval Scotland, p. 241
  2. ^ a b Watt & Murray, Fasti, p. 168
  3. ^ a b c d "Historical successions: Galloway or Candida Casa or Whithorn". Crockford's Clerical Directory. Retrieved 9 June 2013.
  4. ^ "Diocese of Galloway". Catholic-Hierarchy. Retrieved 9 June 2013.


  • Barrell, Andrew D. M. (2000), Medieval Scotland, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-58602-X
  • Clancy, T. O. "The real St Ninian," in The Innes Review, 52 (2001)
  • Dowden, John, The Bishops of Scotland, ed. J. Maitland Thomson, (Glasgow, 1912)
  • Hudson, Benjamin T., "Kings and Church in Early Scotland", in The Scottish Historical Review', Vol. 73, (October, 1994), pp. 145–70
  • Oram, Richard, The Lordship of Galloway, (Edinburgh, 2000)
  • Watt, D. E. R.; Murray, A. L., eds. (2003), Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae Medii Aevi ad annum 1638, The Scottish Record Society, New Series, Volume 25 (Revised ed.), Edinburgh: The Scottish Record Society, ISBN 0-902054-19-8, ISSN 0143-9448