Sanctoral Dedications of Episcopal Parishes

Dr. Kirk Hadaway, official numbers person for the Episcopal Church, was kind enough to provide me with a list of every single Episcopal parish in the world as of a few years ago. I have now gone through that list with an eye to discovering to whom our various churches are dedicated with a particular interest in sanctoral dedications. That is, which saints are churches dedicated to? What patterns of dedication do we see? Specifically, what is the breakdown between red-letter saint dedications and black-letter (i.e., those directly in the purview of HWHM and the Calendar Subcommittee), and what do those tell us about established local observance of saints across the Episcopal Church?

Here are some of my findings.

The starting list of 7,204 names displays quite a range of naming possibilities. Broadly speaking, Episcopal parishes take a name either from:

  • a saint to whom they are dedicated,
  • a feast of the (temporal cycle of the) liturgical year,
  • a person of the Trinity,
  • a theological concept, or
  • their location

Of these options, there are a total of 4,773 dedications of parishes to saints. The number of parishes dedicated to saints is slightly smaller than this as some parishes are dedicated to two saints and there are a handful that are dedicated to three saints.

Most of these sanctoral dedications are fairly straight-forward. It should be noted at this point, however, that there were a few difficulties in the overlap of names. Because most saints are referred to in the list (and in church dedications) by a single name, there is potential confusion between individuals who share a common name. The most ambiguity occurs in the following cases:

  • John: these churches could be dedicated to
    • John, the Apostle and Evangelist
    • John the Baptizer
    • John the Divine, author of Revelation (who may or may not be the same as John the Apostle)
  • James: these churches could be dedicated to
    • James the Greater, Apostle
    • James the Less, Apostle
    • James of Jerusalem (the Just), brother of our Lord Jesus Christ
  • Augustine: these churches could be dedicated to
    • Augustine of Hippo
    • Augustine of Canterbury
  • Ant(h)ony: these churches could be dedicated to
    • Antony of Egypt
    • Anthony of Padua
  • Gregory
    • Gregory the Great of Rome
    • Gregory of Nyssa
    • Gregory the Illuminator
    • Gregory Nazianzus

I realized only in the course of this analysis that Elizabeth could refer (primarily) either to Elizabeth of Hungary or to Elizabeth, the Mother of John the Baptizer. Those with qualifiers indicated “Hungary” but this would require further scrutiny to clarify the true state.

I did research a number of these by checking parish websites; in some cases I could tell which saint was indicated, in others it was inconclusive. (Pro tip: if your church is dedicated to a saint, say a little bit about them on your parish website!) If I could not tell, I went with the more common which is the first saint of the group named above.

Of these 4,773 dedications, 3,596 are dedicated to saints having red-letter days (75.3%). Of the red-letter saints, these are the ten most popular:

Paul of Tarsus, Apostle 482
John, Apostle and Evangelist 435
Andrew, Apostle 284
James the Greater, Apostle 265
Luke, Evangelist 248
All Saints 233
Mark, the Evangelist 231
Mary the Virgin, Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ 211
Simon Peter (Cephas), Apostle 208
Stephen, Deacon and Martyr 170

These top ten represent (in turn) 76.9% of the red-letter sanctoral dedications and therefore 57.9% of all sanctoral dedications in the Episcopal Church.

Of the 1,177 black-letter dedications, these are the top ten:

Francis of Assisi, Friar, 1226 92
George, Soldier and Martyr, c. 304 90
Alban, First Martyr of Britain, c. 304 82
David, Bishop of Menevia, Wales, c. 544 62
Anne, Parent of the Blessed Virgin Mary 61
Christopher, Martyr at Antioch, c. 304 59
Timothy, Companion of Saint Paul 59
Martin, Bishop of Tours, 397 57
Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, and Theologian, 430 43
All Angels 35

If “All Angels” is removed as it connects to a red-letter day, the next entries would be a tie: Margaret, Queen of Scotland, and Patrick, Bishop and Missionary of Ireland, both at 32. The top ten list here represent 54.4% of the black-letter dedications.

Given the red-letter vs. black-letter balance and the overwhelming presence of male saints in the red-letter category, it’s no surprise that the overall gender balance shows massive disparities. 4,344 dedications are to male saints (91%); 429 are to female saints (9%). Of the female saints having dedications, here are the top ten:

Mary the Virgin, Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ 211
Anne, Parent of the Blessed Virgin Mary 61
Margaret, Queen of Scotland, 1093 32
Elizabeth, Princess of Hungary, 1231 31
Mary Magdalene 16
Martha of Bethany 11
Agnes, Martyr at Rome, 304 10
Clare, Abbess at Assisi, 1253 8
Catherine of Alexandria, Virgin and Martyr, c. 305 6
Monnica, Mother of Augustine of Hippo, 387 6

The breakdown between clergy and lay saints is not as disparate as one might expect, even when holding with Church tradition and identifying all twelve Apostles as bishops. 4,007 dedications are to bishops/priests/deacons/religious (83.9%); 766 are to laity (16.1%). Here are the top 10 lay dedications:

Mary the Virgin, Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ 211
George, Soldier and Martyr, c. 304 90
Alban, First Martyr of Britain, c. 304 82
Anne, Parent of the Blessed Virgin Mary 61
Christopher, Martyr at Antioch, c. 304 59
John the Baptizer 55
Joseph, Adoptive Father of Jesus Christ 36
Margaret, Queen of Scotland, 1093 32
Elizabeth, Princess of Hungary, 1231 31
Mary Magdalene 16

Shifting gears slightly, when we look at the saints to whom dedications are given, 133 saints have dedications. Of these, there are 107 black-letter saints with dedications.

Of these 107, 37 saints with a total of 173 dedications do not appear in HWHM. These are the top ten saints having dedications but not formally appearing within the Calendar:

Christopher, Martyr at Antioch, c. 304 59
Gabriel, Archangel 19
John the Divine, c. 90 11
Raphael the Archangel 9
Edward the Confessor, 1066* 9
Catherine of Alexandria, Virgin and Martyr, c. 305 6
Giles of Provence, Hermit, c.710 5
Helena, Protector of the Holy Places, 330 5
Anthony of Padua, priest and doctor of the Church 5
Charles Stuart, King and Martyr, 1649 4

* There’s likely some confusion here between the two sainted King Edwards of England, Edward the Confessor and Edward the Martyr. However, there were a total of 10 between the two of them.

It’s worth nothing that up until the introduction of HWHM, this list would have been headed by Saint George with 90.

When we look at the breakdown across time we see an interesting pattern. Again, when looking at the full set, the skew towards the first century and the red-letter apostolic saints is unmistakable:

CenturyParishDedAllHere’s the supporting data:

Century Parishes
1 3400
2 25
3 36
4 355
5 82
6 98
7 58
8 24
9 10
10 20
11 42
12 24
13 142
14 5
15 2
16 4
17 6
18 0
19 0
20 0

This is the graph and data when red-letter saints are removed:

CenturyParishDedBlack

Century Parishes
1 161
2 25
3 36
4 355
5 82
6 98
7 58
8 24
9 10
10 20
11 42
12 24
13 142
14 5
15 2
16 4
17 6
18 0
19 0
20 0

The spike in the 13th century is primarily due to Francis of Assisi (92 dedications) and Elizabeth of Hungary (31 dedications) [but see the caveat above on the correct identification of dedications to “Elizabeth”].

Thus, the most recent saints to receive dedications are the three in the 17th century, Charles Stuart, King and Martyr (4 dedications), William Laud (1 dedication), and Rose of Lima (1 dedication).

Of the new prospective saints introduced with HWHM, only four have dedications:

George, Soldier and Martyr, c. 304 90
Cecilia, Martyr at Rome, c. 280 1
Rosa de Lima, 1617, Witness to the Faith in South America 1
Lucy (Lucia), Martyr at Syracuse, 304 1

Again, these figures indicate a certain lack of attention to the local identification and observance of saints in the construction of HWHM.

While there is more data that can be teased out of this material, let me leave you with one final data set. This chart displays the dedications for parishes with Spanish titles representing not only Hispanic parishes in the US but also our dioceses in Central and South America:

MaryBVM 33
PaulAp 18
Joseph 13
PeterAp 12
MichaelArchangel 10
JohnAp 9
FrancisAssisi 9
JohnBaptist 8
Stephen 7
MatthewAp 7
AllSaints 7
LukeAp 7

The first include four dedications to the Virgin of Guadalupe/of the Americas, three dedications to Our Lady of Supaya, two dedications to Our Lady of Carmel, one to Our Lady of the Angels, one to Our Lady of the Forsaken, and one to Our Lady of Walsingham. Again, if we want to recognize local observance, we would do well to consider these dedications as we consider outreach into non-Anglo demographics.

While there were dedications where the title indicated primary languages of French, Korean, Japanese, and Lakota, the French mirrored the English, and the others did not rise to the level of being statistically significant.

11 Replies to “Sanctoral Dedications of Episcopal Parishes”

  1. In order to address the gender imbalance, our Bishop decided that all new parishes within the diocese must be named after women. This would be more meaningful if there were many new parishes. There’d be more, but the expense of clergy is prohibitive.

  2. I don’t see her falling into the traditional categories of bishop/priest/deacon based on the biblical record or church teaching. If anything, I’d make an argument for the BVM as one who “confects” Christ… :-)

  3. Who decides, generally, the dedication of a new parish, do you know? Is there any canon law about this at all, or is it just “the founders” who decide on their own?

    I guess it would be “missions,” at this point, that this would refer to most frequently…..

  4. Good question–I’m not sure. Obviously, a parish/mission can’t be formed without diocesan approval, so they have to have a word in the process somewhere.

  5. At one time, missions were often founded by parishes, I think – but I’m not sure if that’s true anymore.

    “St. Mary Magdalene” – especially with all her recent popularity – might be an excellent dedication for new parishes or missions. There are, in fact, quite a few women in the New Testament narratives that could serve as namesakes for new parishes – and actually I think that missions might play a much larger role in the future than they have in the past.

    New congregations formed outside the current parish listings (which I think would mostly be missions) would still have dedication names, even if they didn’t have buildings of their own, right?

  6. This is fascinating research on a topic about which I’ve always wanted to see some hard data. I’d be curious to know how many churches have the kind of generic-Protestant names that were being touted in the late 90s (NewSong or Living Waters or that kind of thing.)

    A tiny local comment on the ambiguity of names: I am currently serving at St. John’s in Beverly Farms MA, and our patron is John of Beverley, who (if I am not mistaken) is neither in LFF nor in HWHM.

  7. Doh! I know you’ve mentioned that before–need to add another row to the spreadsheet… :-)

    There aren’t too many of the late 90’s names due, most likely, to our poor track record of church plants. Nevertheless, I do remember asking M whether she’d like to serve at True Sunshine Episcopal Church (located in California). I do want to go back through an do a full analysis on all of the names, not just the sanctoral ones, but I’ve got to get through the late June SCLM meeting before getting to that.

  8. Church-houses are not dedicated “to” saints. They are dedicated to God, though they may be named in honor of saints.

  9. Your post, of course, does not touch Canada (some years ago, I made a similar list of dedications but it is on a Dbase4 file of some antiquity), but you might be interested to know that we had one or two popular canonizations by dedication– Saint Charles, Dereham (diocese of MontrĂ©al) after Charles James Stewart, Bishop of Quebec (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Stewart_(bishop)) and Jessie Hardisty Church in the Diocese of the Arctic, after a local catechist.

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