A peculiar is an area exempt from the direct jurisdiction of an archdeacon or bishop within the Church. It can be personal, territorial or a combination of the two. The judicial role of a peculiar is exercised either by the Crown, another diocesan bishop, a prebend, Chapters of a cathedral or collegiate, individual Chapter members, the incumbent of a parish, a corporate body such as a university, or the lord of a manor.
Knowledge of the existence of peculiar jurisdictions dates from the twelfth century when episcopal and parochial boundaries were being established, and English bishops, inspired by reforming decrees emanating from Rome, were attempting to exert their authority throughout their dioceses. In doing so, they met considerable resistance from bishops of other dioceses, heads of religious houses and even laity, all of whom owned estates in the diocese and thus claimed some measure of spiritual authority over their tenants and parishioners. Unsurprisingly, bishops who resented relinquishing control in their own dioceses were often happy to claim jurisdiction over estates in others.
The Reformation led to the demise of many peculiars, but several remained in every diocese until the mid-nineteenth century when almost all were merged with normal parishes or became such in their own right. Few now remain, and the status of those that do has in many cases been challenged.