The Most Reverend John Habgood died yesterday at the age of 91, it has been announced.

The priest served as Archbishop of York, which is the Church of England's second most senior position, from 1983 to 1995. He had previously been the Bishop of Durham, since 1973.

Today his successor, John Sentamu, led tributes to Habgood's "towering presence", and described him as "hugely distinguished".

"The sad news of the death yesterday of former Archbishop of York, John Stapylton Habgood, comes as northern bishops gather for a Diocesan mission in Liverpool. "As a hugely distinguished scientist, theologian and philosopher, Archbishop Habgood’s faith in Christ gave him a particular perspective and a persuasive witness both to church and nation for his time. His many books simplified big and complex questions, revealing an incredibly perceptive intellect. I’m very glad to have confirmed his grandchildren and dedicated a room in his honour at Bishopthorpe Palace. His towering presence, physical, intellectual, and spiritual, was a gift to all who knew him. My prayers are with his family at this time. May he Rest in Peace, and rise in glory." >

Dr John Sentamu, Archbishop of York

Lord Habgood was one of the most outspoken clerics of his age, and a key exponent of Christian faith and morals in a secular period.

With his scientific background, he regarded many of the stories on which Christian doctrines are based as being true allegorically rather than literally.

As a scientist, he had difficulty in asserting the literal truth of supernatural events said to have occurred long ago, in times even more credulous than today.

And his sensitive handling of the situation created by the ordination of women, which he supported, won him the admiration even of former critics.