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

Dr John Sentamu gave his backing to the Right Rev Justin Welby after it was officially confirmed he was to replace Dr Rowan Williams.

Dr Sentamu said he was relieved the “rumour mill” would now cease.

Bishop Welby, an Eton-educated former oil industry executive who was enthroned as Bishop of Durham only a year ago, will become the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury and spiritual leader of the 77 million-strong Anglican Communion.

Dr Sentamu said he had “many gifts and unique experience” to bring to the role.

“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.

“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 people for their support including the Diocese of York and staff at Bishopthorpe Palace.

Bishop Welby told a news conference at Lambeth Palace: “To be nominated to this post is both astonishing and exciting.”

He was the fourth most senior cleric in the Church of England before the announcement, which No 10 made on Twitter, that he would succeed Rowan Williams.

“It’s something I never expected,” said the bishop. “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.”