Abbey (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.