An abbess (Latin "abbatissa," fem. form of "abbas," abbot) is the female superior, or Mother Superior, of an abbey of nuns.

In Roman Catholic and Anglican abbeys, the mode of election, position, rights, and authority of an abbess correspond generally with those of an abbot. The office is elective, the choice being by the secret votes of the sisters from their own body. Like the abbot, the abbess is solemnly admitted to her office by formal blessing, conferred by the bishop in whose territory the monastery is or by an abbot or another bishop with his permission. Unlike the abbot, she receives only the ring and a copy of the rule of the order: the abbess does not receive the mitre, and she is not given a crosier as part of the blessing ceremony though, by ancient tradition, she may carry one when leading her sisters. She also traditionally adds a pectoral cross to her habit as a symbol of office.

Abbesses are, like abbots, major superiors in canon law. They receive the vows of the sisters of the abbey and have full authority in its administration. As they do not receive Holy Orders, in the Roman Catholic church they do not have many of the other powers conferred upon abbots, however, and they do not exercise authority over territories outside of their monastery.

Historically, in some Celtic monasteries abbesses presided over joint-houses of monks and nuns, the most famous example being St. Brigid's leadership in the founding of the monastery at Kildare. This custom accompanied Celtic monastic missions to France and Spain, and even to Rome itself. At a later period, 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.

In the Lutheran Church the title of abbess ("Äbtissin") has in some cases—e.g. Itzehoe—survived to designate the heads of abbeys which since the Protestant Reformation have continued as "Stifte," i.e. collegiate foundations, which provide a home and an income for unmarried ladies, generally of noble birth, called canonesses ("Kanonissinen") or more usually "Stiftsdamen." This office of abbess is of considerable social dignity, and was sometimes filled by princesses of the reigning houses. Until the dissolution of Holy Roman Empire and mediatization 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.


* [ Catholic Encyclopedia-Abbess]

ee also

* List of abbots and abbesses of Kildare

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  • Abbess — • The female superior in spirituals and temporals of a community of twelve or more nuns Catholic Encyclopedia. Kevin Knight. 2006. Abbess     Abbess      …   Catholic encyclopedia

  • Abbess — Ab bess ([a^]b b[e^]s), n. [OF. abaesse, abeesse, F. abbesse, L. abbatissa, fem. of abbas, abbatis, abbot. See {Abbot}.] A female superior or governess of a nunnery, or convent of nuns, having the same authority over the nuns which the abbots… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • abbess — (n.) c.1300, abbese, from O.Fr. abbesse, from L.L. abbatissa, fem. of abbas (see ABBOT (Cf. abbot)). Replaced earlier abbotess …   Etymology dictionary

  • abbess — ► NOUN ▪ a woman who is the head of an abbey of nuns …   English terms dictionary

  • abbess — [ab′əs] n. [ME abbes < OFr abesse < LL(Ec) abbatissa, fem. of abbas, ABBOT] a woman who is head of an abbey of nuns …   English World dictionary

  • Abbess — This most interesting and unusual surname is usually English. It is a variant of Abbs , a patronymic form of Abel , and not as it may seem, a female form of the popular surname and job description Abbot , i.e. The abbess. Abel derives from the… …   Surnames reference

  • abbess — noun /ˈæbɪs/ A female superior or governess of a nunnery, or convent of nuns, having the same authority over the nuns which the abbots have over the monks. The abbess was always after the nuns to keep the convent immaculately clean. Syn: mother… …   Wiktionary

  • abbess — UK [ˈæbes] / US [ˈæbəs] noun [countable] Word forms abbess : singular abbess plural abbesses a woman who is in charge of a convent (= a religious community of women) …   English dictionary

  • abbess —  ; abbot    These terms (from the Aramaic Abba, meaning father ) refer respectively to the religious superior of anabbey of women or the religious superior of an abbey of men. An abbess, who is considered the spiritual mother of the abbey, or an… …   Glossary of theological terms

  • abbess — /ab is/, n. a woman who is the superior of a convent of nuns. [1275 1325; ME abbesse < OF abbesse, abaesse < LL abbatissa, fem. of abbas ABBOT; r. ME abbatisse < LL; in turn r. OE abadisse, abbodesse (cf. OHG abbatissa) < LL *ab(b)adissa for… …   Universalium

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