Former Bishop of Durham, The Right Reverend Dr David Jenkins, has died aged 91, his family said.

Dr Jenkins died in Barnard Castle, County Durham, on Sunday morning. He had been living with Alzheimer's disease for many years.

The cleric and theologian was Bishop of Durham - one of the country's oldest dioceses - from 1984 until 1994 when he retired and took on the post of honorary assistant bishop in Ripon and Leeds.

Before becoming a bishop, Dr Jenkins was a Professor of Theology at the University of Leeds, and spent 15 years prior to that as a fellow and chaplain of Queen's College, Oxford.

He was a controversial figure in religion who had been dubbed the "unbelieving bishop" after doubting that God would have arranged a Virgin Birth and the resurrection.

York Minister was struck by lightning and burst into flames just days after his consecration in 1984. The events led some to believe that the fire was a sign of divine wrath in outrage at his appointment as bishop.

Dr Jenkins was satirised in television puppet Spitting Image, and was depicted in one episode persuading God to become an atheist.

He served in Durham during the miners' strike in the 1980s and often joined them on marches. He was an open critic of the then prime minister Margaret Thatcher's policies, and she is said to have thought of Dr Jenkins as a cuckoo in the establishment nest.

The bishop, who was born in Bromley, Kent, went on to write Market Whys And Human Wherefores: Thinking Again About Markets, Politics, And People about the deficiencies of economic theory.

He leaves behind four children. A funeral will be held at Durham Cathedral at a later date, his family said.

The Rt Revd Mark Bryant, Bishop of Jarrow paid tribute to Bishop David Jenkins who "showed a very new and green bishop immense kindness" when he arrived in the North East.

He said: "Bishop David was Bishop of Durham from 1984-1994. As is well known, his time as Bishop covered the miners' strike and his impact in the wider community was perhaps even greater than in the church.

"Certainly there are many in the mining community who still speak of him with great affection. I was lucky enough to meet him on two or three occasions shortly after I arrived in the North East and his energy and sharpness of vision were still much in evidence."

The Venerable Stuart Bain, Archdeacon of Sunderland, reflected on Dr Jenkins' "electrifying sermon at his enthronement" during the miners' strike in 1984.

In a statement, he said: "David was never shy of making political statements but it was clear to me that this was driven by a clear belief in social justice rooted so often in the teaching of the OT prophets.

"When Bishop David retired I was at a gathering at Spennymoor Town Hall and someone came over to me having seen my dog collar and I think knowing who I was. He explained he was from the Durham NUM and he said, 'I just want to shake your hand and say thank you for your Bishop'.

"Not the usual thing Durham miners had to say about the Bishop of Durham! His intervention and support 10 years earlier had not been forgotten."

Archdeacon Stuart added that Dr Jenkins's controversial comments about God "got people talking about theology, debating and thinking about their faith and frankly that had to be a good thing".

"He often got quite frustrated with diocesan structures and politics and he did not have the ability to hide this in my experience. However, as bishop of the diocese I found him to be pastoral and supportive opening up opportunities for me to develop personally within my ministry," he said.