The Most Famous

RELIGIOUS FIGURES from United Kingdom

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This page contains a list of the greatest British Religious Figures. The pantheon dataset contains 3,187 Religious Figures, 116 of which were born in United Kingdom. This makes United Kingdom the birth place of the 4th most number of Religious Figures behind France, and Turkey.

Top 10

The following people are considered by Pantheon to be the top 10 most legendary British Religious Figures of all time. This list of famous British Religious Figures is sorted by HPI (Historical Popularity Index), a metric that aggregates information on a biography’s online popularity. Visit the rankings page to view the entire list of British Religious Figures.

Photo of Saint Patrick

1. Saint Patrick (385 - 461)

With an HPI of 71.91, Saint Patrick is the most famous British Religious Figure.  His biography has been translated into 64 different languages on wikipedia.

Saint Patrick (Latin: Patricius; Irish: Pádraig [ˈpˠɑːɾˠɪɟ] or [ˈpˠaːd̪ˠɾˠəɟ]; Welsh: Padrig) was a fifth-century Romano-British Christian missionary and bishop in Ireland. Known as the "Apostle of Ireland", he is the primary patron saint of Ireland, the other patron saints being Brigid of Kildare and Columba. Patrick was never formally canonised, having lived before the current laws of the Catholic Church in such matters. Nevertheless, he is venerated as a saint in the Catholic Church, the Lutheran Church, the Church of Ireland (part of the Anglican Communion), and in the Eastern Orthodox Church, where he is regarded as equal-to-the-apostles and Enlightener of Ireland. The dates of Patrick's life cannot be fixed with certainty, but there is general agreement that he was active as a missionary in Ireland during the fifth century. A recent biography on Patrick shows a late fourth-century date for the saint is not impossible. According to tradition dating from the early Middle Ages, Patrick was the first bishop of Armagh and Primate of Ireland, and is credited with bringing Christianity to Ireland, converting a pagan society in the process. He has been generally so regarded ever since, despite evidence of some earlier Christian presence. According to Patrick's autobiographical Confessio, when he was about sixteen, he was captured by Irish pirates from his home in Britain and taken as a slave to Ireland. He writes that he lived there for six years as an animal herder before escaping and returning to his family. After becoming a cleric, he returned to spread Christianity in northern and western Ireland. In later life, he served as a bishop, but little is known about where he worked. By the seventh century, he had already come to be revered as the patron saint of Ireland. Saint Patrick's Day, considered his feast day, is observed on 17 March, the supposed date of his death. It is celebrated in Ireland and among the Irish diaspora as a religious and cultural holiday. In the dioceses of Ireland, it is both a solemnity and a holy day of obligation.

Photo of Saint Ursula

2. Saint Ursula (400 - 383)

With an HPI of 70.90, Saint Ursula is the 2nd most famous British Religious Figure.  Her biography has been translated into 37 different languages.

Ursula (Latin for 'little female bear') was a Romano-British virgin and martyr possibly of royal origin. She is venerated as a saint in the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion. Her feast day in the pre-1970 General Roman Calendar and in some regional calendars of the ordinary form of the Roman Rite is 21 October.

Photo of Alcuin

3. Alcuin (735 - 804)

With an HPI of 69.83, Alcuin is the 3rd most famous British Religious Figure.  His biography has been translated into 51 different languages.

Alcuin of York (; Latin: Flaccus Albinus Alcuinus; c. 735 – 19 May 804) – also called Ealhwine, Alhwin, or Alchoin – was a scholar, clergyman, poet, and teacher from York, Northumbria. He was born around 735 and became the student of Archbishop Ecgbert at York. At the invitation of Charlemagne, he became a leading scholar and teacher at the Carolingian court, where he remained a figure in the 780s and 790s. Before that, he was also a court chancellor in Aachen. "The most learned man anywhere to be found", according to Einhard's Life of Charlemagne (c. 817–833), he is considered among the most important intellectual architects of the Carolingian Renaissance. Among his pupils were many of the dominant intellectuals of the Carolingian era. Alcuin wrote many theological and dogmatic treatises, as well as a few grammatical works and a number of poems. In 796, he was made abbot of Marmoutier Abbey, in Tours, where he worked on perfecting the Carolingian minuscule script. He remained there until his death.

Photo of Thomas Becket

4. Thomas Becket (1119 - 1170)

With an HPI of 68.02, Thomas Becket is the 4th most famous British Religious Figure.  His biography has been translated into 57 different languages.

Thomas Becket (), also known as Saint Thomas of Canterbury, Thomas of London and later Thomas à Becket (21 December 1119 or 1120 – 29 December 1170), served as Lord Chancellor from 1155 to 1162, and then notably as Archbishop of Canterbury from 1162 until his death in 1170. He engaged in conflict with Henry II, King of England, over the rights and privileges of the Church and was murdered by followers of the King in Canterbury Cathedral. Soon after his death, he was canonised by Pope Alexander III. He is venerated as a saint and martyr by the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion.

Photo of William Laud

5. William Laud (1573 - 1645)

With an HPI of 66.65, William Laud is the 5th most famous British Religious Figure.  His biography has been translated into 32 different languages.

William Laud (LAWD; 7 October 1573 – 10 January 1645) was a bishop in the Church of England. Appointed Archbishop of Canterbury by Charles I in 1633, Laud was a key advocate of Charles I's religious reforms; he was arrested by Parliament in 1640 and executed towards the end of the First English Civil War in January 1645. Laud believed in episcopalianism, or rule by bishops. "Laudianism" was a reform movement that emphasised liturgical ceremony and clerical hierarchy, enforcing uniformity within the Church of England, as outlined by Charles. Its often highly ritualistic aspects prefigure what are now known as high church views. In theology, Laud was accused of Arminianism, favouring doctrines of the historic church prior to the Reformation and defending the continuity of the English Church with the primitive and medieval church, and opposing Calvinism. On all three grounds, he was regarded by Puritan clerics and laymen as a formidable and dangerous opponent. His use of the Star Chamber to persecute opponents such as William Prynne made him deeply unpopular.

Photo of Edward the Confessor

6. Edward the Confessor (1003 - 1066)

With an HPI of 66.08, Edward the Confessor is the 6th most famous British Religious Figure.  His biography has been translated into 66 different languages.

Edward the Confessor (c. 1003 – 5 January 1066) was an Anglo-Saxon English king and saint. Usually considered the last king of the House of Wessex, he ruled from 1042 until his death in 1066. Edward was the son of Æthelred the Unready and Emma of Normandy. He succeeded Cnut the Great's son – and his own half-brother – Harthacnut. He restored the rule of the House of Wessex after the period of Danish rule since Cnut conquered England in 1016. When Edward died in 1066, he was succeeded by his wife's brother Harold Godwinson, who was defeated and killed in the same year at the Battle of Hastings by the Normans under William the Conqueror. Edward's young great-nephew Edgar Ætheling of the House of Wessex was proclaimed king after the Battle of Hastings, but was never crowned and was peacefully deposed after about eight weeks. Historians disagree about Edward's fairly long 24-year reign. His nickname reflects the traditional image of him as unworldly and pious. Confessor reflects his reputation as a saint who did not suffer martyrdom as opposed to his uncle, King Edward the Martyr. Some portray Edward the Confessor's reign as leading to the disintegration of royal power in England and the advance in power of the House of Godwin, because of the infighting that began after his death with no heirs to the throne. Biographers Frank Barlow and Peter Rex, on the other hand, portray Edward as a successful king, one who was energetic, resourceful and sometimes ruthless; they argue that the Norman conquest shortly after his death tarnished his image. However, Richard Mortimer argues that the return of the Godwins from exile in 1052 "meant the effective end of his exercise of power", citing Edward's reduced activity as implying "a withdrawal from affairs". About a century after his death, in 1161, Pope Alexander III canonised the king. Edward was one of England's national saints until King Edward III adopted Saint George (George of Lydda) as the national patron saint in about 1350. Saint Edward's feast day is 13 October and is celebrated by both the Church of England and the Catholic Church.

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7. John Wesley (1703 - 1791)

With an HPI of 65.85, John Wesley is the 7th most famous British Religious Figure.  His biography has been translated into 52 different languages.

John Wesley (; 28 June [O.S. 17 June] 1703 – 2 March 1791) was an English cleric, theologian, and evangelist who was a leader of a revival movement within the Church of England known as Methodism. The societies he founded became the dominant form of the independent Methodist movement that continues to this day. Educated at Charterhouse and Christ Church, Oxford, Wesley was elected a fellow of Lincoln College, Oxford, in 1726 and ordained as an Anglican priest two years later. At Oxford, he led the "Holy Club", a society formed for the purpose of the study and the pursuit of a devout Christian life. After an unsuccessful two year ministry in Savannah, Georgia, he returned to London and joined a religious society led by Moravian Christians. On 24 May 1738, he experienced what has come to be called his evangelical conversion. He subsequently left the Moravians and began his own ministry. A key step in the development of Wesley's ministry was to travel widely and preach outdoors, embracing Arminian doctrines. Moving across Great Britain and Ireland, he helped form and organise small Christian groups (societies and classes) that developed intensive and personal accountability, discipleship, and religious instruction. He appointed itinerant, unordained evangelists—both women and men—to care for these groups of people. Under Wesley's direction, Methodists became leaders in many social issues of the day, including the abolition of slavery and support for women preachers. Although he was not a systematic theologian, Wesley argued for the notion of Christian perfection and against Calvinism. His evangelicalism, firmly grounded in sacramental theology, maintained that means of grace sometimes had a role in sanctification of the believer; however, he taught that it was by faith a believer was transformed into the likeness of Christ. He held that, in this life, Christians could achieve a state where the love of God "reigned supreme in their hearts", giving them not only outward but inward holiness. Wesley's teachings, collectively known as Wesleyan theology, continue to inform the doctrine of Methodist churches. Throughout his life, Wesley remained within the established Church of England, insisting that the Methodist movement lay well within its tradition. In his early ministry years, Wesley was barred from preaching in many parish churches and the Methodists were persecuted; he later became widely respected, and by the end of his life, was described as "the best-loved man in England".

Photo of John Knox

8. John Knox (1514 - 1572)

With an HPI of 65.25, John Knox is the 8th most famous British Religious Figure.  His biography has been translated into 62 different languages.

John Knox (c. 1514 – 24 November 1572) was a Scottish minister, Reformed theologian, and writer who was a leader of the country's Reformation. He was the founder of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland. Born in Giffordgate, a street in Haddington, East Lothian, Knox is believed to have been educated at the University of St Andrews and worked as a notary-priest. Influenced by early church reformers such as George Wishart, he joined the movement to reform the Scottish Church. He was caught up in the ecclesiastical and political events that involved the murder of Cardinal David Beaton in 1546 and the intervention of the regent Mary of Guise. He was taken prisoner by French forces the following year and exiled to England on his release in 1549. While in exile, Knox was licensed to work in the Church of England, where he rose in the ranks to serve King Edward VI of England as a royal chaplain. He exerted a reforming influence on the text of the Book of Common Prayer. In England, he met and married his first wife, Margery Bowes. When Mary I ascended the throne of England and re-established Catholicism, Knox was forced to resign his position and leave the country. Knox moved to Geneva and then to Frankfurt. In Geneva, he met John Calvin, from whom he gained experience and knowledge of Reformed theology and Presbyterian polity. He created a new order of service, which was eventually adopted by the Reformed Church in Scotland. He left Geneva to head the English refugee church in Frankfurt but he was forced to leave over differences concerning the liturgy, thus ending his association with the Church of England. The University of Edinburgh Heritage Collection holds a copy of Knox's Liturgy, translated into Scots Gaelic by John Carswell. It is the first book printed in any Gaelic language. On his return to Scotland, Knox led the Protestant Reformation in Scotland, in partnership with the Scottish Protestant nobility. The movement may be seen as a revolution since it led to the ousting of Mary of Guise, who governed the country in the name of her young daughter Mary, Queen of Scots. Knox helped write the new confession of faith and the ecclesiastical order for the newly created Reformed Church, the Kirk. He wrote his five-volume The History of the Reformation in Scotland between 1559 and 1566. He continued to serve as the religious leader of the Protestants throughout Mary's reign. In several interviews with the Queen, Knox admonished her for supporting Catholic practices. After she was imprisoned for her alleged role in the murder of her husband Lord Darnley, and King James VI was enthroned in her stead, Knox openly called for her execution. He continued to preach until his final days.

Photo of Saint Walpurga

9. Saint Walpurga (710 - 779)

With an HPI of 65.04, Saint Walpurga is the 9th most famous British Religious Figure.  Her biography has been translated into 32 different languages.

Walpurga or Walburga (Old English: Wealdburg; Latin: Valpurga, Walpurga, Walpurgis; Swedish: Valborg; c. 710 – 25 February 777 or 779) was an Anglo-Saxon missionary to the Frankish Empire. She was canonized on 1 May c. 870 by Pope Adrian II. Saint Walpurgis Night (or "Sankt Walpurgisnacht") is the name for the eve of her feast day in the Medieval period, which coincided with May Day; her feast is no longer celebrated on that day, but the name is still used for May Eve.

Photo of Saint Boniface

10. Saint Boniface (680 - 754)

With an HPI of 65.01, Saint Boniface is the 10th most famous British Religious Figure.  His biography has been translated into 44 different languages.

Boniface (born Wynfreth; c. 675 – 5 June 754) was an English Benedictine monk and leading figure in the Anglo-Saxon mission to the Germanic parts of Francia during the eighth century. He organised significant foundations of the church in Germany and was made bishop of Mainz by Pope Gregory III. He was martyred in Frisia in 754, along with 52 others, and his remains were returned to Fulda, where they rest in a sarcophagus which remains a site of Christian pilgrimage. Boniface's life and death as well as his work became widely known, there being a wealth of material available — a number of vitae, especially the near-contemporary Vita Bonifatii auctore Willibaldi, legal documents, possibly some sermons, and above all his correspondence. He is venerated as a saint in the Christian church and became the patron saint of Germania, known as the "Apostle to the Germans". Norman Cantor notes the three roles Boniface played that made him "one of the truly outstanding creators of the first Europe, as the apostle of Germania, the reformer of the Frankish church, and the chief fomentor of the alliance between the papacy and the Carolingian family." Through his efforts to reorganize and regulate the church of the Franks, he helped shape the Latin Church in Europe, and many of the dioceses he proposed remain today. After his martyrdom, he was quickly hailed as a saint in Fulda and other areas in Germania and in England. He is still venerated strongly today by Catholics in Germany and throughout the German diaspora. Boniface is celebrated as a missionary; he is regarded as a unifier of Europe, and he is regarded by German Roman Catholics as a national figure. In 2019 Devon County Council, with the support of the Anglican Diocese of Exeter, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Plymouth, and local Devon leaders of the Orthodox, Methodist, and Congregational churches, officially recognised St Boniface as the Patron Saint of Devon.

People

Pantheon has 132 people classified as British religious figures born between 300 and 2008. Of these 132, 15 (11.36%) of them are still alive today. The most famous living British religious figures include Richard Williamson, Roger Deakins, and Ajahn Brahm. The most famous deceased British religious figures include Saint Patrick, Saint Ursula, and Alcuin. As of April 2024, 16 new British religious figures have been added to Pantheon including Thomas Byles, Lullus, and Andrew Bell.

Living British Religious Figures

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Deceased British Religious Figures

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Newly Added British Religious Figures (2024)

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Overlapping Lives

Which Religious Figures were alive at the same time? This visualization shows the lifespans of the 25 most globally memorable Religious Figures since 1700.