Abbess (2)

Abbess the female superior of a body of nuns. The office of abbess was elective and for life (triennial abbesses, however are mentioned belonging to years so late as 1565, 1583). An abbess was restricted to one monastery; was bound to render obedience to the bishop in all things; and was subject to be deprived for misconduct, but only upon report of the bishop to the king. She was bound, also, to give account of monastic property to both king and bishop was entitled to absolute obedience, possessing ample powers of discipline, even to expulsion, but could not excommunicate; neither could she give the veil or ordain. In France an abbess was not to leave her monastery, save once a year if summoned by the king, with the bishop's consent, to his presence upon monastic business. Neither was she to speak to any man except upon necessary business, and then before witnesses, and between the first hour of the day and evening. Abbesses had no power to choose confessors for themselves or for their nuns without the sanction of the ordinary. There have been instances of abbesses attending provincial synods, when they were distinguished by the pastoral staff and veil of prelacy (conferred at sixty years of age). The dress of an abbess in the 12th century consisted only of a long white tunic with close sleeves, probably of linen, and a black surtout of equal length with sleeves large and loose, and a hood drawn up so as to cover the head completely.

 
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