At the dissolution of the monasteries, there were nine Benedictine cathedral priories in England: Canterbury, Winchester, Worcester, Durham, Norwich, Rochester, Ely, Coventry and Bath. Others before that had included Sherborne, Bath Abbey and Westminster Abbey.

Many people are confused about why Bath Abbey and Westminster Abbey are not cathedrals; indeed, the origins of the English cathedral priories vary, they differ in status, and their organisation differed too.

Where the abbot of the cathedral monastery was named bishop by monarch or Holy See, he would act as abbot of the cathedral monastery and bishop of the diocese, but in the bishop’s absence all jurisdiction was delegated to the prior. Where the named bishop was not a monk, he would appoint a prior as superior of the cathedral monastery.

After the Fourth Lateran Council (1215), there were few Benedictine bishops and the cathedral priors were given the right to use pontificalia and to sit with the abbots in Parliament. The Benedictine cathedral priories, like all the religious houses in England, were dissolved by the crown during the reign of Henry VIII. What is often overlooked is that their dissolution was confirmed by the papal bull Praeclara in 1555 on the recommendation of Cardinal Reginald Pole.

In 1633, however, the papal bull Plantata gave the General Chapter of the English Benedictines the right to appoint priors to the former cathedral priories. Because the Benedictine abbeys of Gloucester, Peterborough and Chester had also become cathedrals, the bull appointed cathedral priors to these as well. Cathedral priors were appointed in the belief of England would soon once more become loyal to Rome and the titular priors would re-establish the cathedral priories.

When the Catholic hierarchy was restored in England in 1850, some people thought these titles would be quietly dropped, as it was obvious the old cathedrals would continue to be part of the Church of England. But the memory of the mediaeval cathedral priories remained and the cathedral priors continue to be appointed.