Dr Rowan Williams has attended his last service as the Archbishop of Canterbury at the city's cathedral, before he leaves office as head of the Church of England and spiritual leader of the 77 million-strong Anglican Communion.

More than 700 people turned out to bid farewell to 62-year-old Dr Williams before he officially departs as the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury tomorrow following a 10-year tenure.

He will go on to take up the posts of Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge, and chairman of the board of trustees of Christian Aid, the international development agency.

archbishop

Dr Rowan Williams preached at Canterbury Catherdral for his final service

Dr Williams will be replaced by 56-year-old former oil executive the Rt Rev Justin Welby, the Bishop of Durham, who will be consecrated in March at Canterbury Cathedral as Archbishop of Canterbury.

At the end of today's service, Dr Williams was presented with a set of five porcelain bowls created by ceramic artist Edmund de Waal, the son of a former dean of Canterbury, by the current dean, the Very Rev Dr Robert Willis.

A cathedral spokesman said: "It was a way for the local congregation and the people of Canterbury to come together and say thank-you to Archbishop Rowan for all that he has done for the last 10 years."

archbishop of canterbury

Hundreds turned out to see the Archbishop

Delivering his final Christmas Day sermon from Canterbury Cathedral, Dr Williams spoke of how he has been inspired by meeting people who have experienced great suffering, such as victims of gang violence.

He also acknowledged that the General Synod's vote against allowing women to become bishops had damaged the credibility of the Church.

But he pointed out a reason to be positive - the recently-published Census statistics indicated that 59% of people still identified themselves as Christian.

Church of England bishops and former prime minister Tony Blair have paid tribute to Dr Williams, describing him as "loved and deeply respected" and someone who had given "unwavering" service to the Church of England and the wider nation.

The Bishop of Sheffield, the Rt Rev Steven Croft, said Dr Williams was "loved and deeply respected" across the Church of England and the Anglican Communion.

The Bishop of Worcester, Dr John Inge, said he believed history will judge Dr Williams to have been an "outstanding" archbishop.

Dr Williams's departure comes after a turbulent decade in office in which he has fought to maintain unity within the Anglican Communion amid rows over Church teaching on gay relationships.

He leaves the Church of England battling to resolve long-running negotiations over the introduction of women bishops after legislation to introduce the first female bishops was defeated last month at the General Synod.

The Archbishop's decade in office has also featured high-profile interventions on controversial issues such as the invasion of Iraq, sharia law and government economic policy.

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    Rowan Williams caused controversy when he guest-edited an edition of the New Statesman where he questioned the coalition government's mandate and said their policies caused "anxiety and anger".

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    He had said before his enthronement as Archbishop of Canterbury that he could "see a case" for acknowledging faithful same-sex relationships, raising hopes among liberals of a relaxation of traditional church teaching on the subject. But these hopes were dashed in 2003 in the row over the nomination of Jeffrey John, a gay but celibate clergyman, as bishop of Reading. Dr John, who is now Dean of St Albans, was forced to withdraw his acceptance of the post, and Dr Williams went on to acknowledge the "pain" the furore had caused within the Church, saying he had been taken aback by the strength of the reaction. The row over Dr John was soon to be superseded by the worldwide row within the Anglican Communion over the election and consecration by the Episcopal Church in the US in 2003 of an openly gay man, Gene Robinson, who lives with his male partner, as Bishop of New Hampshire.

  • Gay Bishops

    He had said before his enthronement as Archbishop of Canterbury that he could "see a case" for acknowledging faithful same-sex relationships, raising hopes among liberals of a relaxation of traditional church teaching on the subject. But these hopes were dashed in 2003 in the row over the nomination of Jeffrey John, a gay but celibate clergyman, as bishop of Reading. Dr John, who is now Dean of St Albans, was forced to withdraw his acceptance of the post, and Dr Williams went on to acknowledge the "pain" the furore had caused within the Church, saying he had been taken aback by the strength of the reaction. The row over Dr John was soon to be superseded by the worldwide row within the Anglican Communion over the election and consecration by the Episcopal Church in the US in 2003 of an openly gay man, Gene Robinson, who lives with his male partner, as Bishop of New Hampshire.

  • Richard Dawkins debate

    The Archbishop of Canterbury in a recent debate with Richard Dawkins managed to get the famed atheist to admit that he was only "6.9 out of seven" certain God did not exist.

  • Sharia Law

    Williams had to deny <a href="http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/23083487#.T2MluGI5KVM" target="_hplink">he backed Sharia law following a speech in 2008.</a>

He has also backed stricter gun controls in the wake of the Sandy Hook school massacre, saying the ready availability of weapons in a society where fear was already "rampant" pushed people to extreme violence.

The church historian has been willing to take part in public debates with leading atheists and critics of the Church such as Professor Richard Dawkins and the author Philip Pullman.

He has weighed in on social issues too, for example, hitting out at the "feverish advertising culture" that fuels "unreal and disproportionate desires."

For the past ten years Williams has quite literally been a colourful character, a silver-bearded captain at the spiritual helm of the British church.

He was the man who married Prince William and Kate Middleton, the first fluent Welsh speaker to take the Archbishop post, and one of Oxford University's youngest professors.

We bid farewell to the Archbishop unafraid of cutting shapes in front the camera, known for his expressive eyebrows as much as for his spiritual guidance.

Warning: some captions may appear irreverent.

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