Abbess

In Christianity, an abbess (Latin abbatissa, feminine form of abbas, abbot) is the female superior of a community of nuns, which is often an abbey.[1]

Anonymous Abbess Eufemia Szaniawska
Eufemia Szaniawska, Abbess of the Benedictine Monastery in Nieśwież with a crosier, c. 1768, National Museum in Warsaw

Description

In the Catholic Church (both the Latin Church and Eastern Catholic), Eastern Orthodox, Coptic and Anglican abbeys, the mode of election, position, rights, and authority of an abbess correspond generally with those of an abbot.[2] She must be at least 40 years old and have been a nun for 10 years.[3] The age requirement in the Catholic Church has evolved over time, ranging from 30 to 60. The requirement of 10 years as a nun is only 8 in Catholicism. In the rare case of there not being a nun with the qualifications, the requirements may be lowered to 30 years of age and 5 of those in an "upright manner", as determined by the superior.[1] A woman who is of illegitimate birth, is not a virgin, has undergone non-salutory public penance, is a widow, or is blind or deaf, is typically disqualified for the position, saving by permission of the Holy See.[1] The office is elective, the choice being by the secret votes of the nuns belonging to the community.[4] Like an abbot, after being confirmed in her office by the Holy See, an abbess is solemnly admitted to her office by a formal blessing, conferred by the bishop in whose territory the monastery is located, or by an abbot or another bishop with appropriate permission. Unlike the abbot, the abbess receives only the ring, the crosier, and a copy of the rule of the order. She does not receive a mitre as part of the ceremony.[1][5] The abbess also traditionally adds a pectoral cross to the outside of her habit as a symbol of office, though she continues to wear a modified form of her religious habit or dress, as she is unordained—females cannot be ordained—and so does not vest or use choir dress in the liturgy.[1] An abbess serves for life, except in Italy and some adjacent islands.[1]

Roles and responsibilities

Maria Theresia Isabella Austria 1816 1867 portrait
Princess Maria Theresia Isabella of Austria, a noble abbess with her crosier.

Abbesses are, like abbots, major superiors according to canon law, the equivalents of abbots or bishops (the ordained male members of the church hierarchy who have, by right of their own office, executive jurisdiction over a building, diocesan territory, or a communal or non-communal group of persons—juridical entities under church law). They receive the vows of the nuns of the abbey; they may admit candidates to their order's novitiate; they may send them to study; and they may send them to do pastoral or missionary, or to work or assist—to the extent allowed by canon and civil law—in the administration and ministry of a parish or diocese (these activities could be inside or outside the community's territory). They have full authority in its administration.

However, there are significant limitations. They may not administer the sacraments, whose celebration is reserved to bishops, priests, deacons (clerics), namely, those in Holy Orders. They may make provision for an ordained cleric to help train and to admit some of their members, if needed, as altar servers, extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, or lectors—all ministries which are now open to the unordained. They may not serve as a witness to a marriage except by special rescript. They may not administer Penance (Reconciliation), Anointing of the Sick (Extreme Unction), or function as an ordained celebrant or concelebrant of the Mass (by virtue of their office and their training and institution, they may act, if the need arises, as altar servers, lectors, ushers, porters, or extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, and if need be, the Host).[1] They may preside over the Liturgy of the Hours which they are obliged to say with their community, speak on Scripture to their community, and give certain types of blessings not reserved to the clergy. On the other hand, they may not ordinarily preach a sermon or homily, nor read the Gospel during Mass. As they do not receive episcopal ordination in the Catholic, Orthodox and Oriental Churches, they do not possess the ability to ordain others, nor do they exercise the authority they do possess under canon law over any territories outside of their monastery and its territory (though non-cloistered, non-contemplative female religious members who are based in a convent or monastery but who participate in external affairs may assist as needed by the diocesan bishop and local secular clergy and laity, in certain pastoral ministries and administrative and non-administrative functions not requiring ordained ministry or status as a male cleric in those churches or programs).[1] There are exigent circumstances, where due to Apostolical privilege, certain Abbesses have been granted rights and responsibilities above the normal, such as the Abbess of the Cistercian Monastery of the Abbey of Santa María la Real de Las Huelgas near Burgos, Spain. Also granted exceptional rights was the Abbess of the Cistercian order in Conversano Italy. She was granted the ability to appoint her own vicar-general, select and approve the confessors, along with the practice of receiving the public homage of her clergy. This practice continued until some of the duties were modified due to an appeal by the clergy to Rome. Finally in 1750, the public homage was abolished.[1]

History

Historically, in some Celtic monasteries, abbesses presided over joint-houses of monks and nuns,[2] the most famous example being Saint Brigid of Kildare's leadership in the founding of the monastery at Kildare in Ireland. This custom accompanied Celtic monastic missions to France, Spain, and even to Rome itself. In 1115, Robert, the founder of Fontevraud Abbey near Chinon and Saumur, France, committed the government of the whole order, men as well as women, to a female superior.[2][6]

In Lutheran churches, the title of abbess (German Äbtissin) has in some cases (e.g. Itzehoe Convent) survived to designate the heads of abbeys which since the Protestant Reformation have continued as monasteries or convents (German Stifte).[2] These positions continued, merely changing from Catholic to Lutheran. The first to make this change was the Abbey of Quedlinburg, whose last Catholic Abbess died in 1514.[1] These are collegiate foundations, which provide a home and an income for unmarried ladies, generally of noble birth, called canonesses (German Kanonissinen) or more usually Stiftsdamen or Kapitularinnen. The office of abbess is of considerable social dignity, and in the past, was sometimes filled by princesses of the reigning houses.[2] Until the dissolution of Holy Roman Empire and mediatisation of smaller imperial fiefs by Napoleon, the evangelical Abbess of Quedlinburg was also per officio the head of that reichsunmittelbar state. The last such ruling abbess was Sofia Albertina, Princess of Sweden.[7]

In the Hradčany of Prague is a Catholic institute whose mistress is titled an Abbess. It was founded in 1755 by the Empress Maria Theresa, and traditionally was responsible for the coronation of the Queen of Bohemia. The Abbess is required to be an Austrian Archduchess.[1]

During the Middle Ages abbesses were known to attempt usurpation of the spiritual power forbidden them. Attempts were made to bless, give penance, make the sign of the cross on the foreheads of men, even administer the sacrament. The pope has categorized these forays into the forbidden as "unheard of, most indecorous, and highly preposterous," adding that "these Abbesses had evidently overrated theor spiritual powers a trifle."[1] The Roman Catholic Church has around 200 abbesses at present.[5] The oldest women's abbey in Germany being St. Marienthal Abbey of Cistercian nuns, near Ostritz, established during the early 13th-century.

On September 10, 2018, the priory of Our Lady of Ephesus in Gower, MO was elevated to an Abbey and the prioress, Mother Cecilia Snell, OSB, was consecrated as the first abbess. The Benedictines of Mary Queen of Apostles are a traditional order of Benedictines nuns whose monastery is in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.

See also

Footnotes

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Oestreich 1907
  2. ^ a b c d e  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Abbess" . Encyclopædia Britannica. 1 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 11.
  3. ^ Hoiberg 2010, p. 11
  4. ^ Chisholm 1911.
  5. ^ a b Henneberry 1997, p. 8
  6. ^ Fletcher 2007
  7. ^ Rambler 2010

References

Barking Abbey

Barking Abbey is a former royal monastery located in Barking, in the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham. It has been described as "one of the most important nunneries in the country".Originally established in the 7th century, from the late 10th century the abbey followed the Rule of St. Benedict. The abbey had a large endowment and sizeable income but suffered severely after 1377, when the River Thames flooded around 720 acres (290 ha) of the abbey's land, which was unable to be reclaimed. Despite this, at the time of the dissolution it was still the third wealthiest nunnery in England.The abbey existed for almost 900 years, until its closure in 1539, as part of King Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries. It had many notable abbesses including several saints, former queens and the daughters of kings. The abbess of Barking held precedence over all other abbesses in England.The ruined remains of Barking Abbey now form part of a public open space known as Abbey Green. It is recognisable for its partially restored Grade-II* Listed Curfew Tower, which features on the coat of arms of the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham.Barking Abbey is also notable because the adjacent St Margaret's Church a grade I listed building dating back to the 13th century was built within its grounds. The Abbey Ruins are used as a venue each May for outdoor Classical Concerts, as well as an annual pilgrimage by members of the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Bishop of Ely

The Bishop of Ely is the ordinary of the Church of England Diocese of Ely in the Province of Canterbury. The diocese roughly covers the county of Cambridgeshire (with the exception of the Soke of Peterborough), together with a section of north-west Norfolk and has its episcopal see in the City of Ely, Cambridgeshire, where the seat is located at the Cathedral Church of the Holy Trinity. The current bishop is Stephen Conway, who signs +Stephen Elien: (abbreviation of the Latin adjective Eliensis, meaning "of Ely"). The diocesan bishops resided at the Bishop's Palace, Ely until 1941; they now reside in Bishop's House, the former cathedral deanery. Conway became Bishop of Ely in 2010, translated from the Diocese of Salisbury where he was Bishop suffragan of Ramsbury.The roots of the Diocese of Ely are ancient and the area of Ely was part of the patrimony of Saint Etheldreda. Prior to the elevation of Ely Cathedral as the seat of the diocese, it existed as first as a convent of religious sisters and later as a monastery. It was led by first by an abbess and later by an abbot. The convent was founded in the city in 673. After St Etheldreda's death in 679 she was buried outside the church. Her remains were later translated inside, the foundress being commemorated as a great Anglican saint. The monastery, and much of the city of Ely, were destroyed in the Danish invasions that began in 869 or 870. A new Benedictine monastery was built and endowed on the site by Saint Athelwold, Bishop of Winchester, in 970, in a wave of monastic refoundations which also included Peterborough and Ramsey. In the Domesday Book in 1086, the Bishop of Ely is referenced as a landholder of Foxehola. This became a cathedral in 1109, after a new Diocese of Ely was created out of land taken from the Diocese of Lincoln. From that time the line of bishops begins.

Climb Ev'ry Mountain

For Judith Durham's 1971 album of the same name, see Climb Ev'ry Mountain (album)."Climb Ev'ry Mountain" is a show tune from the 1959 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical The Sound of Music. It is sung at the close of the first act by the Mother Abbess. It is themed as an inspirational piece, to encourage people to take every step toward attaining their dreams.

Essen Abbey

Essen Abbey (Stift Essen) was a monastery of secular canonesses for women of high nobility in Essen, Germany. It was founded about 845 by the Saxon Altfrid (died 874), later Bishop of Hildesheim and saint, near a royal estate called Astnidhi, which later gave its name to the religious house and to the town. The first abbess was Altfrid's kinswoman, Gerswit.

Apart from the abbess, the canonesses did not take vows of perpetual celibacy, and were able to leave the abbey to marry; they lived in some comfort in their own houses, wearing secular clothing except when performing clerical roles such as singing the Divine Office. A chapter of male priests were also attached to the abbey, under a dean. In the medieval period, the abbess exercised the functions of a bishop, except for the sacramental ones, and those of a ruler, over the very extensive estates of the abbey, and had no clerical superior except the pope.

Fontevraud Abbey

The Royal Abbey of Our Lady of Fontevraud or Fontevrault (in French: abbaye de Fontevraud) was a monastery in the village of Fontevraud-l'Abbaye, near Chinon, in the former French duchy of Anjou. It was founded in 1101 by the itinerant preacher Robert of Arbrissel. The foundation flourished and became the center of a new monastic Order, the Order of Fontevrault. This order was composed of double monasteries, in which the community consisted of both men and women—in separate quarters of the abbey—all of which were subject to the authority of the Abbess of Fontevraud. The Abbey of Fontevraud itself consisted of four separate communities, all completely managed by the same abbess.

The first permanent structures were built between 1110 and 1119. The area where the Abbey is located was then part of what is sometimes referred to as the Angevin Empire. The King of England, Henry II, his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and son, King Richard the Lionheart were all buried here at the end of the 12th century. It was disestablished as a monastery during the French Revolution.

The Abbey is situated in the Loire Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, between Chalonnes-sur-Loire and Sully-sur-Loire within the Loire-Anjou-Touraine French regional natural park (Parc naturel régional Loire-Anjou-Touraine).

The complex of monastic buildings served as a prison from 1804 to 1963. Since 1975, it has hosted a cultural centre, the Centre Culturel de l'Ouest.

Gandersheim Abbey

Gandersheim Abbey (German: Stift Gandersheim) is a former house of secular canonesses (Frauenstift) in the present town of Bad Gandersheim in Lower Saxony, Germany. It was founded in 852 by Duke Liudolf of Saxony, progenitor of the Liudolfing or Ottonian dynasty, whose rich endowments ensured its stability and prosperity.

The "Imperial free secular foundation of Gandersheim" (Kaiserlich freies weltliches Reichsstift Gandersheim), as it was officially known from the 13th century to its dissolution in 1810, was a community of the unmarried daughters of the high nobility, leading a godly life but not under monastic vows, which is the meaning of the word "secular" in the title.

Herford Abbey

Herford Abbey (German: Frauenstift Herford) was the oldest women's religious house in the Duchy of Saxony. It was founded as a house of secular canonesses in 789, initially in Müdehorst (near the modern Bielefeld) by a nobleman called Waltger, who moved it in about 800 onto the lands of his estate Herivurth (later Oldenhervorde) which stood at the crossing of a number of important roads and fords over the Aa and the Werre. The present city of Herford grew up on this site around the abbey.

Hilda of Whitby

Hilda of Whitby or Hild of Whitby (c. 614–680) is a Christian saint and the founding abbess of the monastery at Whitby, which was chosen as the venue for the Synod of Whitby. An important figure in the conversion of the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity, she was abbess at several monasteries and recognised for the wisdom that drew kings to her for advice.

The source of information about Hilda is the Ecclesiastical History of the English People by Bede in 731, who was born approximately eight years before her death. He documented much of the Christian conversion of the Anglo-Saxons.

Hildelith

Hildelith of Barking, also known as Hildilid or Hildelitha, was an 8th-century Christian saint, from Anglo-Saxon England but of foreign origin.Very little is known of her life; however, she is known to history mainly through the hagiography of the Secgan Manuscript, and the Life of St Hildelith written in 1087 by the Medieval Benedictine hagiographical writer Goscelin. She was abbess of the nunnery at Barking in England. She was also the superior to Cwenburh of Wimborne prior to that saint's founding of Wimborne Abbey.

Héloïse

Héloïse ( or ; French: [e.lɔ.iz]; 1090?/1100–1? – 16 May 1164) was a French nun, writer, scholar, and abbess, best known for her love affair and correspondence with Peter Abélard.

Héloïse is accorded an important place in French literary history and in the development of feminist representation. While few of her letters survive, those that do have been considered a foundational "monument" of French literature from the late thirteenth century onwards. Her correspondence, more erudite than it is erotic, is the Latin basis for the bildungsroman and a model of the classical epistolary genre, and which influenced writers as diverse as Madame de Lafayette, Laclos, Rousseau and Dominique Aury.

Mary of Jesus of Ágreda

Mary of Jesus of Ágreda (Spanish: María de Jesús), OIC, also known as the Abbess of Ágreda (2 April 1602 – 24 May 1665), was a Franciscan abbess and spiritual writer, known especially for her extensive correspondence with King Philip IV of Spain and reports of her bilocation between Spain and its colonies in New Spain. She was a noted mystic of her era.

A member of the Order of the Immaculate Conception, also known as Conceptionists, Mary of Jesus wrote fourteen books, including a series of revelations about the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Her bilocation activity is said to have occurred between her cloistered monastery in rural Spain and the Jumano Indians of central New Mexico and West Texas, and inspired many Franciscan missionaries in the New World. In popular culture since the 17th century, she has been dubbed the Lady in Blue and the Blue Nun, after the color of her order's habit.

Merovingian dynasty

The Merovingians were a Salian Frankish dynasty that ruled the Franks for three centuries in a region known as Francia in Latin, beginning in the middle of the 5th century. Their territory largely corresponded to ancient Gaul as well as the Roman provinces of Raetia, Germania Superior and the southern part of Germania. The semi legendary Merovech was supposed to have founded the Merovingian dynasty, but it was his famous grandson Clovis I (ruled c. 481–511) who united all of Gaul under Merovingian rule.

After the death of Clovis, there were frequent clashes between different branches of the family, but when threatened by its neighbours the Merovingians presented a strong united front.

During the final century of Merovingian rule, the kings were increasingly pushed into a ceremonial role. The Merovingian rule ended in March 752 when Pope Zachary formally deposed Childeric III. Zachary's successor, Pope Stephen II, confirmed and anointed Pepin the Short in 754, beginning the Carolingian monarchy.

The Merovingian ruling family were sometimes referred to as the "long-haired kings" (Latin reges criniti) by contemporaries, as their long hair distinguished them among the Franks, who commonly cut their hair short. The term "Merovingian" comes from medieval Latin Merovingi or Merohingi ("sons of Merovech"), an alteration of an unattested Old Dutch form, akin to their dynasty's Old English name Merewīowing, with the final -ing being a typical patronymic suffix.

Prince-abbot

A Prince-Abbot (German: Fürstabt) is a title for a cleric who is a Prince of the Church (like a Prince-Bishop), in the sense of an ex officio temporal lord of a feudal entity, notably a State of the Holy Roman Empire. The secular territory ruled by the head of an abbey is known as Prince-Abbacy or Abbey-principality. The holder, however, does not hold the ecclesiastical office of a Bishop.

The designated abbey may be a community of either monks or nuns. Thus, because of the possibility of it being a female monastery, an abbey-principality is one of the few cases in which the rule can be restricted to female incumbents, styled Princess-Abbess.

In some cases, the holder was a Prince of the Holy Roman Empire (Reichsfürst), with a seat and a direct vote (votum virile) in the Imperial Diet. Most immediate abbots however, while bearing the title of a "Prince-Abbot", only held the status of an Imperial prelate with a collective vote in the Imperial Diet. Actual Prince-Abbots were:

the Abbot of Fulda, "Archchancellor of the Empress", according to a 1220 decree by Emperor Frederick II, elevated to a Prince-Bishopric by Pope Benedict XIV in 1752

the Abbot of Prüm, elevated by Emperor Frederick II in 1222, held in personal union by the Archbishop of Trier from 1576

the Abbot of Kempten, confirmed by King Charles IV in 1348

the Abbot of Murbach, elevated by King Ferdinand I in 1548

the Abbot of Stavelot-Malmedy

the Abbot of Corvey, elevated to a Prince-Bishop in 1792The Imperial prelates were represented in the Diet by the envoys of the Swabian and Rhenish College, both holding one collective vote.

Other examples include the Abbot Nullius of Pinerolo in the Piedmont, Italy and Belmont Abbey, North Carolina, which had the status of an Abbey Nullius until 1977.

Quedlinburg Abbey

Quedlinburg Abbey (German: Stift Quedlinburg or Reichsstift Quedlinburg) was a house of secular canonesses (Frauenstift) in Quedlinburg in what is now Saxony-Anhalt, Germany. It was founded in 936 on the initiative of Saint Mathilda, the widow of King Henry the Fowler, as his memorial. For many centuries it and its abbesses enjoyed great prestige and influence.

Quedlinburg Abbey was an Imperial Estate and one of the approximately forty self-ruling Imperial Abbeys of the Holy Roman Empire. It was disestablished in 1802/3.

Today, the mostly Romanesque buildings are a World Heritage Site of UNESCO. The church, known as Stiftskirche St. Servatius, is used by the Lutheran Evangelical Church in Germany.

Romsey Abbey

Romsey Abbey is a parish church of the Church of England in Romsey, a market town in Hampshire, England. Until the dissolution it was the church of a Benedictine nunnery. It is now the largest parish church in the county, since Christchurch Priory is now in Dorset.

The Sound of Music

The Sound of Music is a musical with music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II and a book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse. It is based on the memoir of Maria von Trapp, The Story of the Trapp Family Singers. Set in Austria on the eve of the Anschluss in 1938, the musical tells the story of Maria, who takes a job as governess to a large family while she decides whether to become a nun. She falls in love with the children, and eventually their widowed father, Captain von Trapp. He is ordered to accept a commission in the German navy, but he opposes the Nazis. He and Maria decide on a plan to flee Austria with the children. Many songs from the musical have become standards, such as "Edelweiss", "My Favorite Things", "Climb Ev'ry Mountain", "Do-Re-Mi", and the title song "The Sound of Music".

The original Broadway production, starring Mary Martin and Theodore Bikel, opened in 1959 and won five Tony Awards, including Best Musical, out of nine nominations. The first London production opened at the Palace Theatre in 1961. The show has enjoyed numerous productions and revivals since then. It was adapted as a 1965 film musical starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer, which won five Academy Awards. The Sound of Music was the last musical written by Rodgers and Hammerstein; Oscar Hammerstein died of stomach cancer nine months after the Broadway premiere.

Wendreda

Wendreda, also known as Wendreth, was an Anglo-Saxon nun, healer, and saint, perhaps of the 7th century. She was uncertainly reported as a daughter of King Anna of East Anglia, a Christian king, which would make her a sister of Etheldreda, abbess of Ely, Sexburgha, abbess of Minster-in-Sheppey, and Ethelburga, abbess of Faremoutiers, who are all better-known saints, and a half-sister of Sæthryth, also an abbess of Faremoutiers.

She is associated with March, in the Isle of Ely, and Exning, Suffolk.

Whitby Abbey

Whitby Abbey was a 7th-century Christian monastery that later became a Benedictine abbey. The abbey church was situated overlooking the North Sea on the East Cliff above Whitby in North Yorkshire, England, a centre of the medieval Northumbrian kingdom. The abbey and its possessions were confiscated by the crown under Henry VIII during the Dissolution of the Monasteries between 1536 and 1545.

Since that time, the ruins of the abbey have continued to be used by sailors as a landmark at the headland. Since the 20th century, the substantial ruins of the church have been declared a Grade I Listed building and are in the care of English Heritage; the site museum is housed in Cholmley House.

Æbbe of Coldingham

Æbbe (c. 615 – 683) was an Anglian abbess and noblewoman. She was the daughter of Æthelfrith, king of Bernicia from c. 593 to 616. She founded monasteries at Ebchester and St Abb's Head near Coldingham in Scotland.

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