Sarah Mullally was a surprise appointment as third most senior cleric in the Church of England

Cardinal Vincent Nichols has congratulated Rt Rev Sarah Mullally on her appointment as the Anglican Bishop of London, the first woman to hold the post in the see’s history.

In statement issued after Downing Street announced the appointment yesterday, Cardinal Nichols offered his prayers and said he looked forward to their “partnership” in spreading the word of Christ to London.

“Today I congratulate the Rt Rev Sarah Mullally DBE on her appointment as the Bishop of London. I assure her of my prayers as she prepares to take up leadership in the thriving Diocese of London.

“I look forward to our partnership in making Christ known in this diverse and unsleeping city.”

Mullally, a former Chief Nursing Officer, was appointed Bishop of Crediton just two years ago, after being ordained in 2002. The bishopric of Crediton is a junior position within the Anglican Diocese of Exeter, equivalent to a Catholic auxiliary bishop.

Her appointment as Bishop of London, the third most senior bishop in the Church of England, is therefore a major promotion and has caught observers by surprise.

London also has a significant number of traditionalist Anglicans who do not accept female ordination, including conservative evangelicals and “Anglo-Catholics”.

In a press conference yesterday, she said she was “respectful” to those who oppose female ministry, but called on churches to be more “relevant” to their communities. “That means increasing churches that are led by priests that are women, who come from black, Asian and minority ethnic groups,” she said, adding: “There is a huge hunger for spirituality and for new ways of being Church.”