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Basic Information

An Abbot (male) or Abbess (female) is the title given to a leader of a Christian monastery, such as an abbey, or nunnery. They are the superior over a group of monks or nuns, and are generally the chief administrator of the monastery, with power over admission to the lower ranks of the order.

In the modern Roman Catholic Church the Abbot is an elected official chosen by, and from within, the monks of the abbey.

Because religion and politics are complex, the title is also sometimes given as an honorific to clergy who don't actually govern over an abbey. For example, some nations or religions may have an "Abbot of the Palace" (aka Abbas palatinus) who attends the Royal Court, or an "Abbot of the Camps" (aka Abbas castrensis) who may be in charge of various Chaplains dispersed throughout the military.

Many historical abbots were also bishops (described as "a mitred abbot") and, given the size of many abbeys, significant landholders (and thus feudal tenants and politicians) in their own right. Within the Holy Roman Empire there were even several abbeys that were states in their own right, with the abbot (occasionally titled "Prince-bishop") as an elector (although historically never emperor). This would usually mean that day to day running of the abbey would be left in the hands of the prior and that, in some cases at least, the abbot might be rarely seen about the place. Alternatively such a potentate might well take advantage of his large staff of literate men and turn his abbey into an otherwise anachronistic administrative complex.

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Game and Story Use

  • Like in In The Name Of The Rose, a remote monastery can be an interesting location for a murder mystery. It could also be the site of a miracle that needs to be investigated, or where the sealed evil in a can is buried for safe-keeping. In any of those scenarios, the Abbot or Abbess is potentially either the person who hires the PCs to investigate, or alternately could be the authority who is trying to sweep it all under the rug before the PCs can expose it.
  • The "Abbot of the Palace" and/or "Abbot of the Camps" could be a powerful figure in a Standard Royal Court, with a strong amount of influence over the Palace Guard and/or Army. They may be an important figure in times of civil war or during a palace coup.
  • Also interesting would be some sort of sinecural abbot - essentially a relic of a long dissolved order who is still maintained as a political figure, with possible ceremonial duties and privileges but few if any actual monks. Possibly found amongst governments in exile (imagine, for example, a Plantagenet court in exile maintaining abbots for abbeys dissolved by Henry VIII or a Saxon ruler having a court full of abbots from abbeys now lost in the Danelaw or some abbot-prince-bishop of a Roman Imperial electorate overrun and erased by Napoleon's armies).
  • In the real world, an Abbot and Abbess are likely to have differing powers and responsibilities, stemming from certain religions limiting the priesthood to males. In a fantasy world or other unique setting, the GM/author gets to choose if these are two distinct positions with differing career paths and authority, or if something more egalitarian is the norm.
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