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A provost is a senior official in a number of Christian churches.

Historical development

The word praepositus (Latin: "set over", from praeponere, "to place in front") was originally applied to any ecclesiastical ruler or dignitary. It was soon more specifically applied to the immediate subordinate to the abbot of a monastery, or to the superior of a single cell, and it was defined as such in the Rule of St Benedict. The dean (decanus) was a similarly ranked official. Chrodegang of Metz adopted this usage from the Benedictines when he introduced the monastic organization of cathedral chapters. The provostship (praepositura) was normally held by the archdeacon, while the office of dean was held by the archpriest. In many cathedrals, the temporal duties of the archdeacons made it impossible for them to fulfil those of the provostship, and the headship of the chapter thus fell to the dean.

The title became prevost in Old French, and then prévôt in modern French, before being adopted as "provost" in English.

Anglican usage

In Englandmarker, the title of provost in cathedrals was almost completely replaced by that of dean, although sometimes when a bishop nominated himself as dean of his own cathedral, a provost was appointed as his deputy.

In cathedrals which were also parish churches, however, especially the newly-created cathedrals of the 19th and 20th centuries, the senior priest (who was also the parish priest) continued to be known as the provost. This title was used by the head priests of Birmingham Cathedralmarker, Blackburn Cathedralmarker, Bradford Cathedralmarker, Chelmsford Cathedralmarker, Coventry Cathedralmarker, Derby Cathedralmarker, Leicester Cathedralmarker, Newcastle Cathedralmarker, Portsmouth Cathedralmarker, St. Edmundsbury Cathedralmarker, Sheffield Cathedralmarker, Southwark Cathedralmarker, Southwell Minstermarker, and Wakefield Cathedralmarker, but all were redesignated deans in 2000.

In the Scottish Episcopal Church tradition continues. The leading priests of the cathedrals, with the exception of the Cathedral of the Islesmarker on Cumbraemarker, are called provost.

The usage is preserved in the title of the heads of some colleges in England formerly administered by the Church.

Germany

Besides today's prevailing spelling of Propst, especially in historical respect the spelling Probst may also occur. Military chaplains, both Catholic and Protestant, have also used the title (e.g. Feldpropst in Prussiamarker).

Catholic use

In Germanymarker, the heads of certain Roman Catholic chapters are still known as Probst or Propst.

Furthermore, "Propstei" or "Propstei(pfarr)gemeinde" is the honorary title to some important, old Roman Catholic churches in Germany; most honorary titles date back to the 20th century. The provosts (see "Propst" in German), being ordinary parish priests, have the privilege to wear the prelate's dress (black-purple) and wear a pectoral cross on a ribbon.

Protestant use

Some pastors bore the merely honorific rank of provost, usually connotated with certain churches and traditionally maintained even after the Protestant Reformation (e.g. in the Evangelical Church of the old-Prussian Union and its successor Evangelical Church in Berlin-Brandenburg).

In certain Landeskirchen within the Evangelical Church in Germany the title is used for a pastor officiating as chairperson in a provostry (e.g. in the Lutheran Evangelical Lutheran State Church in Brunswick, Evangelical Lutheran State Church of Mecklenburg and in the united Evangelical Church in Hesse and Nassau and the Evangelical Church of the Church Province of Saxony). In the above-mentioned Lutheran churches a provostry is equal to a deanery, in the two united churches it is a unit comprising several deaneries.

Furthermore in the united Evangelical Church of Berlin-Brandenburg-Silesian Upper Lusatia the provost is the theological leader of the consistory.

Monastic usage

The heads of Augustinian and Dominican friaries are termed "provost or prior" (praepositus vel prior), and those of Cistercian monasteries "provost or warden" (praepositus vel custos).


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