PARISH (Gr. irapoiKia, district, neighbourhood; TrdpoiKos, one dwelling near or beside, from vapa, oIkos. house; Lat. paroecia, Late Lat. parochia; cf. Fr. parolsse), originally an episcopal district or diocese. In the early Christian Church each district was administered by a bishop and his attendant presbyters and deacons, and the word parochia was frequently applied to such a district (Du Cange, sub. tit.). Scattered congregations or churches within the parochia were served by itinerant presbyters. Towards the close of the 4th century it had become usual for the bishop to appoint resident presbyters to defined districts or territories, to which the term " parish " came gradually to be applied (see also Diocese). Parish, in English ecclesiastical law, may be defined as the township or cluster of townships which was assigned to the ministration of a single priest, to whom its tithes and other ecclesiastical dues were paid; but the word has now acquired several distinct meanings.
The Old Ecclesiastical Parish. - In the absence of evidence to the contrary, the ecclesiastical parish is presumed to be composed of a single township or vill, and to be conterminous with the manor within the ambit of which it is comprised. Before the process of subinfeudation became prevalent, the most ancient manors were the districts which we call by that name when speaking of the tenants, or " townships " when we regard the inhabitants, or " parishes " as to matters ecclesiastical. The parish as an institution is in reality later in date than the township. The latter has been in fact the unit of local administration ever since England was settled in its several states and kingdoms; the beginnings of the parochial system in England are attributed to Theodore of Tarsus, who was archbishop of Canterbury towards the close of the 7th century. The system was extended in the reign of Edgar, and it appears not to have been complete until the reign of Edward III. It has been considered that the intimate connexion of church and state militates against the view that the parochial system was founded as a national institution, since any legislation on the subject of the township and parochial systems would probably have resulted in the merging of the one into the other. " The fact that the two systems, the parish and the township, have existed for more than a thousand years side by side, identical in area and administered by the same persons, and yet separate in character and machinery, is a sufficient proof that no legislative act could have been needed in the first place; nor was there any lay council of the whole nation which could have sanctioned such a measure " (Stubbs, Const. Hist. i. 227). The boundaries of the old ecclesiastical parishes are usually identical with those of the township or townships comprised within its precinct; they are determined by usage, in the absence of charters or records, and are evidenced by perambulations, which formerly took place on the " gang-days " in Rogation week, but are now, where they still survive, for the most part held triennially, the Poor-Law Act of 1844 permitting the parish officers to charge the expense on the poor-rate, " proxaded the perambulations do not occur more than once in three years." The expense of preserving the boundary by land-marks or bound-stones is chargeable to the same rate. Many parishes contain more than one township, and this is especially the case in the northern counties, where the separate townships are organized for administrative purposes under an act passed in 1662. In the southern and midland districts the parishes are for the most part subdivided into hamlets or other local divisions known as "ty things," "boroughs," and the like; the distinction between a parish and a subordinate district hes chiefly in the fact that the latter will be found to have never had a church or a constable to itself. The select committee of 1873, appointed to inquire into parochial boundaries, reported to the effect that the parish bears no definite relation to any other administrative area, except indeed to the poor-law union. It may be situated in different counties or hundreds, and in many instances it contains, in addition to its principal district, several outlying portions intermixed with the lands in other parishes.
After the abolition of compulsory church rates in 1868 the old ecclesiastical parish ceased to be of importance as an instrument of local government. Its officers, however, have still important duties to perform. The rector, vicar or incumbent is a corporation-sole, in whom is vested the freehold of the church and churchyard, subject to the parishioners' rights of user; their rights of burial have been enlarged by various acts. The churchwardens are the principal lay ofiicers. Their duties consist in keeping the church and churchyard in repair and in raising a voluntary rate for the purpose to the best of their power; they have also the duty of keeping order in church during divine service. The other officials are the parish clerk and sexton. They have freeholds in their offices and are paid by customary fees. The office of the clerk is regulated by an act of 1844, enabling a curate to undertake its duties, and providing facilities for vacating the office in case of misconduct. The only civil function of the parish clerk remaining in 1894 was the custody of maps and documents, required to be deposited with him under standing orders of parliament before certain pubhc works were begun. By the Local Government Act 1894 they are now deposited with the chairman or clerk of a parish council.
The New Ecclesiastical Parish. - Under the powers given by the Church Building Acts, and acts for making new parishes, many populous parishes have been subdivided into smaller ecclesiastical parishes. This division has not affected the parish in its civil aspect.
The Civil Parish. - For purposes of civil government the term " parish " means a district for which a separate poor-rate is or can be made, or for which a separate overseer is or can be appointed; and by the Interpretation Act 1889 this definition is to be used in interpreting aU statues subsequent to 1866, except where the context is inconsistent therewith. This district may of itself constitute a poor law union; but in the great majority of cases the unions, or areas under the jurisdiction of boards of guardians according to the Poor-Law Amendment Act of 1S54, are made up of aggregated poor-law parishes. Each of these poor-law parishes may represent the extent of an old ecclesiastical parish, or a township separately rated by custom before the practice was stayed in 1819 or separated from a large parish under the act of 1662, or it may represent a chapelry, tything, borough, ward, quarter or hamlet, or other subdivision of the ancient parish, or, under various acts, an area formed by the merger of an extra-parochial place with an adjoining district by the union of detached portions with adjoining parishes, or by the subdivision of a large parish for the better administration of the relief of the poor. The civil importance of the poor-law parishes may be dated from the introduction of the poor law by the statute of 43 Elizabeth, which directed overseers of the poor to be appointed in every parish, and made the churchwardens into e.x-ojficio overseers. The statute was preceded by tentative provisions of the same kind enacted in the reigns of Edward VL and INIary and in the fifth year of Elizabeth, and after several renewals was made perpetual in the reign of Charles I. The chief part of the parochial organization was the vestry-meeting. It derived its name from the old place of assembly, the vestry room attached to the church or chapel. The vestry represented the old assembly of the township, and retained so much of its business as had not been insensibly transferred to the court-baron and court-leet. The freemen, now appearing as the ratepayers, elected the " parish officers," as the churchwardens and way-wardens, the assessors, the overseers, and (if required) paid assistantoverseers, a secretary or vestry-clerk, and a collector of rates if the guardians applied for his appointment. Common vestries were meetings of all the ratepayers assembled on a three days' notice; select vestries were regulated by local custom, or derived their power from the Vestries Act 183 1 (Hobhouse's Act). The vestries could adopt various acts, and appoint persons to carry those acts into execution. The Local Government Act 1894 restored the parish to its position as the unit of local government by establishing parish councils. (See England: Local Governmeyit.)
The Parish in Scotland. - There can be little doubt that about the beginning of the 13th century' the whofe, or almost the whole, of the kingdom of Scotland was parochially divided. It seems probable (though the point is obscure) that the bishops presided at the first formation of the parishes - the parish being a subdivision of the diocese - and at any rate down to the date of the Reformation they exercised the power of creating new parishes within their respective dioceses (Duncan, Parochial Law, p. 4). After the Reformation the power of altering parishes was assumed by the legislature. The existing parochial districts being found unsuited to the ecclesiastical requirements of the time, a general act was passed in 1581, which made provision for the parochial clergy, and, inter alia, directed that " a suiilicicnt and competent " district should be appropriated to each church as a parish (1581, cap. 100). Thereafter, by a series of special acts in the first place, and, subsequent to the year 1617, by the decrees of parliamentary commissions, the creation of suitable parochial districts was proceeded with. In the year 1707 the powers exercised by the commissioners were permanently transferred to the court of session, whose judges were appointed to act in future as " commissioners for the Plantation of Kirks and Valuation of Teinds " (Act, 1707, cap. 9). Under this statute the areas of parishes continued to be altered and defined down to 1844, when the act commonly known as Graham's Act was passed (7 & 8 Vict. c. 44). This act, which applied to the disjunction and erection of parishes, introduced a simpler form of procedure, and to some extent dispensed with the consent of the heritors, which had been required under the earlier statute. The main division of parishes in Scotland was into civil and ecclesiastical, or, to speak more accurately, into parishes proper (i.e. for all purposes, civil and ecclesiastical) and ecclesiastical parishes. This division is expressed in legal language by the terms, parishes quoad omnia (i.e. quoad civilia el sacra) and parishes quoad sacra - civilia being such matters as church rates, education, poor law and sanitary purposes, and sacra being such as concern the administration of church ordinances, and fall under the cognizance of the church courts. There are other minor divisions which will be noticed below, (i) The Parish Proper. - In a number of instances it is difficult to determine the exact areas of such parishes at the present day. The boundaries of the old ecclesiastical parish were nowhere recorded, and the descriptions in the titles of private properties which appear to lie in the parish have sometimes to be taken as evidence, and sometimes the fact that the inhabitants attended a particular church or made payments in favour of a particular minister. Where there has been a union or disjunction and erection of parishes the evidence of the boundaries is the relative statute, order in council, or decree of commission or of court of teinds. The parishes proper vary to a great degree both in size and population. For ecclesiastical purposes, the minister and kirksession constitute the parochial authority. The minister is vested with the manse and glebe, to be held by him for himself and his successors in office, and along with the kirk-session he administers church ordinances and exercises church discipline. The oldest governing authority was the meeting of the heritors or landowners of the parish. Though gradually shorn of much of its old importance, the heritors' meeting retained the power of imposing an assessment for the purpose of providing and maintaining a church and churchyard and a manse and glebe for the minister. It also possessed power to assess under the Parochial Buildings Acts of 1862 and 1866. Kirk-session and heritors were the educational authority until the establishment of school boards in 1872. (2) Quoad Sacra- Parishes. - The ecclesiastical or quoad sacra parish is a modern creation. Under Graham's Act, above mentioned, a parish may be disjoined and erected quoad sacra tantum on the application of persons who have built and endowed a church, and who offer securities for its proper maintenance. By the Education Act of 1872 the quoad sacra parish was adopted as a separate school district. (3) Extra-Burghal Parishes. - For sanitary purposes, highways and some others, certain classes of burghs were made separate areas from the parishes in which they lay. This fact created a set of incomplete parishes, called extra-burghal. (4) Biirghal, Landward and Biirghal- Landward (or Mixed) Parishes. - This division of parishes depends, as the names imply, upon local character and situation of the parochial districts. The importance of the distinction arose in connexion with the rule of assessment adopted for various parochial burdens, and the nature of the rights of the minister and corresponding obligations of the parishioners. (5) Combined Parishes. - Under the Poor-Law, Education and Registration Acts power was given to the central authority to combine parishes for purposes of local administration. The Local Government (Scotland) Act 1894 reformed parish government, although not to the same extent as the corresponding English act. It established a local government board for Scotland, with a parish council in every parish, and abolished all parochial boards. The number of councillors for a parish council was fixed at not less than five nor more than thirtyone, the number being determined, in the case of landward parishes, by the county council; in the case of burghal parishes by the town council and, in the case of mixed parishes, by county and town councils jointly.
The Parish in the United Slates. - The term " parish " is not in use as a territorial designation except in Louisiana, the si.xty parishes of which correspond to the counties of the other states of the Union. In the American Episcopal Church the word is frequently used to denote an ecclesiastical district.
AUTHORITIES. - The principal records from which information may be gained as to the oldest parochial system in England are the records called Nomina villarum, the Taxalio papae Nicholai made in 1291, the Nonarum inquisitiones relating to assessments made upon the clergy, the Valor ecclcsiaslicus of Henry VIII., the lay subsidies from the reign of Edward III. to that of Charles II., the hearth-tax assessments and the land-tax accounts. On the subject of the parish generally see Stubbs's Constitutional History; Glen's Parish Law; Steer's Parish Law; Toulmin Smith's work on the Parish ; S. and B. Webb, English Local Government, vol. i. ; Kedlich and Hirst, Local Government in England; O. J. Reichel, Rise oj the Parochial System in England (1905). For fuller information regarding the Scottish parish see Connell on Teinds; Duncan's Parochial Ecclesiastical Law; the Cobden Club essays on Local Government and Taxation in the United Kingdom (1882); Goudy and Smith's Local Government in Scotland; Atkinson, Local Government in Scotland.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)