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Charles Buck Theological Dictionary [1]

A monastery, governed by a superior under the title of Abbot or Abbess. Monasteries were at first nothing more than religious houses, whither persons retired from the bustle of the world to spend their time in solitude and devotion: but they soon degenerated from their original institution, and procured large privileges, exemptions, and riches. They prevailed greatly in Britain before the reformation, particularly in England; and as they increased in riches, so the state became poor, for the lands which these regulars possessed could never revert to the lords who gave them. These places were wholly abolished by Henry VIII. He first appointed visitors to inspect into the lives of the monks and nuns, which were found in some places very disorderly; upon which the abbots, perceiving their dissolution unavoidable, were induced to resign their houses to the king, who by that means became invested with the abbey lands; these were afterwards granted to different persons, whose descendants enjoy them at this day: they were then valued at 2,853,000/.per annum; an immense sum in those days.

Though the suppression of these houses, considered in a religious and political light, was a great benefit to the nation, yet it must be owned, that, at the time they flourished, they were not entirely useless. Abbeys were then the repositories as well as the seminaries of learning: many valuable books and national records have been preserved in their libraries; the only places wherein they could have been safely lodged in those turbulent times. Indeed, the historians of this country are chiefly beholden to the monks for the knowledge they have of former national events. Thus a kind Providence overruled even the institutions of superstition for good.

See Monastery

Webster's Dictionary [2]

(1): (n.) A monastery or society of persons of either sex, secluded from the world and devoted to religion and celibacy; also, the monastic building or buildings.

(2): (n.) The church of a monastery.

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [3]

(Lat. abbatia), a monastery of monks or nuns, ruled by an abbot or abbess [for the derivation of the name, (See Abbot) ]. The abbeys in England were enormously rich. All of them, 190 in number, were abolished in the time of Henry VIII. The abbey lands were afterward granted to the nobility, under which grants they are held to the present day. Cranmer begged earnestly of Henry VIII to save some of the abbeys for religious uses, but in vain.

In most abbeys, besides the Abbot, there were the following officers or obedientarii, removable at the abbot's will:

1. Prior, who acted in the abbot's absence as his Locum Tenens. In some great abbeys there were as many as Five priors.

2. Eleemosynarius, or Almoner, who had the oversight of the daily distributions of alms to the poor at the gate.

3. Pitantarius, who had the care of the Pittances, which were the allowances given on special occasions over and above the usual provisions.

4. Sacrista, or Sacristan (Sexton), who had the care of the vessels, vestments, books, etc.; he also provided for the sacrament, and took care of burials.

5. Camerarius, or Chamberlain, who looked after the dormitory.

6. Cellararius, or Cellarer, whose duty it was to procure provisions for strangers.

7. Thesaurarius, or Bursar, who received rents, etc.

8. Precentor, who presided over the choir.

9. Hospitularius, whose duty it was to attend to the wants of strangers.

10. Infirmarius, who attended to the hospital and sick monks. 11. Refectionarius, who looked after the hall, and provided every thing required there.

For the mode of electing abbots, right of visitation, etc., see Conc. Trident. Sess. 24. On the most important English abbeys, see Willis, History of Mitred Abbeys, vol. 1; A. Butler, Lives of Saints, 2:633. (See Convent); (See Monastery); (See Priory).