Some took heart in the fact that both the bishops and the clergy voted overwhelmingly in favour. But among the laity, the vote fell short, with 132-74.

The Church of England was on Wednesday facing what was described as the ``biggest crisis’’ in recent memory after its General Synod rejected -- by a narrow vote -- a proposal to appoint women bishops sparking accusations of "institutionalised sexism’’.

The Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, who had worked hard to bring about a compromise, said the Church had lost a "measure of credibility’’ and would be seen as "wilfully blind’’ to modern trends and priorities.

"Whatever the motivations for voting yesterday, whatever the theological principle on which people acted and spoke, the fact remains that a great deal of this discussion is not intelligible to our wider society - worse than that, it seems that we are wilfully blind to some of the trends and priorities in that wider society," he said as modernisers vowed to continue their campaign.

Dr Williams, who steps down at the end of December, said the Church had "a lot of explaining to do’’ and spoke of his ``deep personal sadness’’ that years of hard work had been undermined by the vote.

"Of course I hoped and prayed that this particular business would be at another stage before I left, and... it is a personal sadness, a deep personal sadness that that is not the case. I can only wish the synod and the archbishop all good things and every blessing with resolving this in the shortest possible time," he said.

His successor Justin Welby, the bishop of Durham, who had appealed to the synod to vote in favour of women bishops, described it as a ``very grim day, most of all for women priests and supporters’’.

Under the rules, the move cannot be revived in the same form until 2015.

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