THE Archbishop of York has pledged to support the new Archbishop of Canterbury, a role for which he was considered an early favourite.

Dr John Sentamu has given his backing to the Right Rev Justin Welby, after it was officially confirmed he was to take on the role from Dr Rowan Williams this morning.

Dr Sentamu said he was relieved the “rumour mill” would now cease, saying the appointment was “neither akin to a horse race nor a presidential campaign”.

Bishop Welby, an Eton-educated former oil industry executive, will become the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury and spiritual leader of the 77 million strong Anglican Communion.

Dr Sentamu said: “Bishop Justin Welby has many gifts and unique experience to bring to this daunting office. More importantly he, like Archbishop Rowan, is a man of God. I have been praying for him, will go on doing so with renewed vigour, and will continue to work with him as a brother and friend in Christ. He can count on the same brotherly affection and co-operation that I have given Archbishop Rowan.

“The tipsters and lobbyists’ predictions can now return to silence. The appointment of an Archbishop is neither akin to a horse race nor a presidential campaign, and it is a relief that the rumour-mill which has been grinding out misinformation, has now ground to a halt.”

He asked for people to pray for Bishop Welby and his family and thanked supporters, including the Diocese of York and staff at Bishopthorpe Palace, “who have specifically prayed, supported and encouraged me in the past seven months”.

Bishop Welby told a news conference at Lambeth Palace: "This is the best-kept secret since the last Cabinet reshuffle.

"To be nominated to this post is both astonishing and exciting."

Bishop Welby was the fourth most senior cleric in the Church of England before the announcement.

No 10 made the unusual move of announcing the appointment on social networking site Twitter, stating: "Downing Street is pleased to announce the appointment of Justin Welby as the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury."

The bishop began his press conference with a prayer and said: "It's something I never expected, and the last few weeks have been a rather strange experience, to put it mildly."

He added: "One of the biggest challenges is to follow a man who I believe will be recognised as one of the greatest Archbishops of Canterbury, Rowan Williams."

And he joked: "On the basis that you should only follow failures, this is a great mistake."

The appointment marks a meteoric career rise for the clergyman who was enthroned as Bishop of Durham only a year ago