A convent is either a community of priests, religious brothers, religious sisters, monks or nuns; or the building used by the community, particularly in the Catholic Church, Lutheran Churches, and the Anglican Communion.
The term derives via Old French from Latin conventus, perfect participle of the verb convenio, meaning to convene, to come together. The original reference was to the gathering of mendicants who spent much of their time travelling. Technically, a “monastery" or "nunnery" is a community of monastics, whereas a "friary" or "convent" is a community of mendicants, and a "canonry" a community of canons regular. The terms “abbey" and “priory" can be applied to both monasteries and canonries; an abbey is headed by an Abbot, and a priory is a lesser dependent house headed by a Prior.
In English usage since about the 19th century the term "convent" almost invariably refers to a community of women,while "monastery" and "friary" are used for men. In historical usage they are often interchangeable, with "convent" especially likely to be used for a friary. When applied to religious houses in Eastern Orthodoxy and Buddhism, English refers to all houses of male religious as "monasteries" and of female religious "convents".
In Catholicism, an abbess is the female superior of a community of nuns, which is often an abbey.
The Benedictines, officially the Order of Saint Benedict, are a monastic Catholic religious order of monks and nuns that follow the Rule of Saint Benedict. They are also sometimes called the Black Monks, in reference to the colour of the members' religious habits.
A monastery is a building or complex of buildings comprising the domestic quarters and workplaces of monastics, monks or nuns, whether living in communities or alone (hermits). A monastery generally includes a place reserved for prayer which may be a chapel, church, or temple, and may also serve as an oratory, or in the case of communities anything from a single building housing only one senior and two or three junior monks or nuns, to vast complexes and estates housing tens or hundreds. A monastery complex typically comprises a number of buildings which include a church, dormitory, cloister, refectory, library, balneary and infirmary. Depending on the location, the monastic order and the occupation of its inhabitants, the complex may also include a wide range of buildings that facilitate self-sufficiency and service to the community. These may include a hospice, a school, and a range of agricultural and manufacturing buildings such as a barn, a forge, or a brewery.
A nun is a member of a religious community of women, typically living under vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience in the enclosure of a monastery. Communities of nuns exist in numerous religious traditions, including Buddhism, Christianity, Jainism, and Taoism.
The Dissolution of the Monasteries, occasionally referred to as the Suppression of the Monasteries, was the set of administrative and legal processes between 1536 and 1541 by which Henry VIII disbanded monasteries, priories, convents and friaries, in England, Wales and Ireland, appropriated their income, disposed of their assets, and provided for their former personnel and functions. Although the policy was originally envisaged as increasing the regular income of the Crown, much former monastic property was sold off to fund Henry's military campaigns in the 1540s. He was given the authority to do this in England and Wales by the Act of Supremacy, passed by Parliament in 1534, which made him Supreme Head of the Church in England, thus separating England from Papal authority, and by the First Suppression Act (1535) and the Second Suppression Act (1539).
A religious order is a lineage of communities and organizations of people who live in some way set apart from society in accordance with their specific religious devotion, usually characterized by the principles of its founder's religious practice. The order is composed of laypeople and, in some orders, clergy. Religious orders exist in many of the world's religions.
A priory is a monastery of men or women under religious vows that is headed by a prior or prioress. Priories may be houses of mendicant friars or nuns, or monasteries of monks or nuns. Houses of canons regular and canonesses regular also use this term, the alternative being "canonry".
A monk is a person who practices religious asceticism by monastic living, either alone or with any number of other monks. A monk may be a person who decides to dedicate his life to serving all other living beings, or to be an ascetic who voluntarily chooses to leave mainstream society and live his or her life in prayer and contemplation. The concept is ancient and can be seen in many religions and in philosophy.
Christian monasticism is the devotional practice of individuals who live ascetic and typically cloistered lives that are dedicated to Christian worship. It began to develop early in the history of the Christian Church, modeled upon scriptural examples and ideals, including those in the Old Testament, but not mandated as an institution in the scriptures. It has come to be regulated by religious rules and, in modern times, the Canon law of the respective Christian denominations that have forms of monastic living. Those living the monastic life are known by the generic terms monks (men) and nuns (women). The word monk originated from the Greek μοναχός, itself from μόνος meaning 'alone'.
A double monastery is a monastery combining a separate community of monks and one of nuns, joined in one institution. More common in the monasticism of Eastern Christianity, where they are found since the 4th century, in the West the establishment of double monasteries became popular after Columbanus and were found in Anglo-Saxon England and Gaul. Double monasteries were forbidden by the Second Council of Nicaea in 787, though it took many years for the decree to be enforced. In a significantly different way, double monasteries were revived again after the 12th century, when a number of religious houses were established on this pattern, among Benedictines and possibly the Dominicans. The 14th-century Bridgittines were consciously founded using this form of community.
Prior, derived from the Latin for "earlier, first", is an ecclesiastical title for a superior, usually lower in rank than an abbot or abbess. Its earlier generic usage referred to any monastic superior.
Enclosed religious orders of the Christian churches have solemn vows with a strict separation from the affairs of the external world. The term cloistered is synonymous with enclosed. In the Catholic Church enclosure is regulated by the code of canon law, either the Latin code or the Oriental code, and also by subsidiary legislation. It is practised with a variety of customs according to the nature and charism of the community in question.
St. Catherine's Priory, Roskilde, was a priory of Dominican friars located in Roskilde. It was dissolved in the Reformation and a private house built on the site.
The suppression of monasteries refers to various events at different times and places when monastic foundations were abolished and their possessions were appropriated by the state.
A religious sister in the Catholic Church is a woman who has taken public vows in a religious institute dedicated to apostolic works, as distinguished from a nun who lives a cloistered monastic life dedicated to prayer. Both nuns and sisters use the term "sister" as a form of address.
Finally, irrespective of religious beliefs, convents remained a possible model for women--Catholic as well as Protestant--to pursue. In Protestant Germany, forms of female religious associative life did not die out, but instead survived in the shape of Protestant convents. These could be governed by a Lutheran abbess, and inhabited by Lutheran nuns in religious habits who claimed membership of a monastic order, paradoxical though this may seem.
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