Dean of Canterbury who became viral sensation with his cathedral cat during lockdown to retire

Leo the cat could be seen disappearing under the Dean's robes during a morning sermon Credit: Canterbury Cathedral

The Dean of Canterbury, who became a viral sensation with his cat during lockdown, will retire on his 75th birthday.

Robert Willis has been in the role since July 2001 and will step down from the role of Dean on the 16th May.

Dean Robert's daily online Morning Prayer videos, from Canterbury Cathedral, were well known to viewers during the pandemic.

Even more well known was his cat Leo, who was caught on camera wandering into view before disappearing beneath his robes.

The Very Revd Dr Robert Willis managed to keep a straight face during the sermon and continued speaking, much to the delight of viewers.

  • WATCH: The moment Leo snuck under The Dean of Canterbury's robes

The Dean's other animals also became famous during lockdown for stealing the show, with their regular appearances during the sermons.

He was frequently joined by his cats Leo and Tiger, pigs, turkeys and rooster Russell Crow.

In one of his videos, Tiger could be seen licking milk out of a jug meant for Dean Robert's afternoon tea, as he sat in the garden.

The mischievous Tiger was also known for nibbling on the microphone used to record the prayer videos, with his purring audible as he sat on Dean Robert's lap.

Another of Canterbury Cathedral's cats were spotted getting involved with the Dean's sermons Credit: Canterbury Cathedral

Although the standard age of retirement for clergy in the Church of England is 70, Dean Robert was granted permission by the Archbishop of Canterbury to continue in office until 75, the maximum age permitted by Church law. 

Speaking of his time at Canterbury, Dean Robert said: "These 21 years have been exceptionally happy and fulfilling, and I shall miss Canterbury greatly. 

"The Archbishop of Canterbury and I had hoped that there could be some kind of extension for me to cover the Lambeth Conference, which takes place in late July and August this year, but, unfortunately, this option has been ruled legally impossible. 

"In looking forward to the next few months, I’m hoping until Easter that the normal course of cathedral life can resume here and that all farewells can be left until after that time. Until Easter, we will still keep our commitment day by day to the Garden Congregations across the world, which has been a feature of ministry during the pandemic. I am sorry that we will not be here to see the full opening up of cathedral life as the months of Covid restrictions come to an end. 

"There will be time to express heartfelt affection and gratitude to all who have been part of our life here and across the world during these happy years, but that will be for later as we prepare to say goodbye."

The Archbishop of Canterbury, who was installed by Dean Robert at Canterbury Cathedral in 2013, said: "Dean Robert has been one of the most exceptional deans of the post-war period – overseeing Canterbury Cathedral’s life of worship, prayer and witness with creativity and imagination. He is deeply loved not just at the Cathedral but across the Diocese of Canterbury, the Church of England, the Anglican Communion and far beyond. 

"Over the course of the pandemic, he has brought the comfort and hope of Jesus Christ to many thousands of people around the world through his daily Morning Prayer videos. Dean Robert has been a faithful, prayerful friend to our whole family and we will miss him greatly. In turn, we will be praying for him and all those who have supported him over many years, as he prepares for retirement and the next stage of his ministry."