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A territorial abbey (or territorial abbacy) is a type of particular church within the Catholic Church.

Normally an abbot is the superior of an abbey (a monastery), and exercises authority over a religious family of monks. His authority extends only as far as the monastery's walls, or only to the monks who have taken their vows in his monastery. A territorial abbot - also called an abbot nullius diœceseos, Latin "belonging to no diocese"), or abbreviated abbot nullius, on the other hand, functions additionally as the ecclesiastical governor for a territory around the monastery, in much the same way a bishop does for a diocese.

The practice arose in part because abbeys have sometimes served as missions. A monastery was sometimes erected in territories where Christianity was first being preached, or in remote and poor areas or areas still being settled. As the monastery was the only ecclesiastical presence in this area, and as the monks sometimes served as the parish clergy in church near the monastery, with even the monastery's own chapel being a worship space for the laity who had settled nearby, the abbot of the monastery, though having received only the priesthood in the sacrament of Holy Orders, was invested with the same administrative authority under canon law as a diocesan bishop for a given territory around the abbey. Thus, with the exception of actually ordaining new priests himself, the abbot so empowered could do almost everything else a diocesan bishop would for those under his care, including incardinate (that is, enroll under his jurisdiction) even non-monastic priests and deacons for service in parishes.

Territorial abbeys still exist in some parts of the world: in sparsely-settled or missionary areas, and in Europe where some ancient abbeys nullius still retain their rights.

Though territorial (like other) abbots are elected by the monks of their abbey, a territorial abbot can only receive the abbatial blessing and be installed under mandate from the pope, just as a bishop cannot be ordained and installed as ordinary of a diocese without such a mandate.

After the Second Vatican Council, more emphasis has been placed on the unique nature of the episcopacy and on the traditional organization of the church into dioceses under bishops. As such, abbeys nullius have been phased out in favor of the erection of new dioceses or the absorption of the territory into an existing diocese. A few ancient abbeys nullius still exist in Europe, and one in Korea.

List of territorial abbacies

There are only 11 remaining territorial abbeys (nearly all Latin rite, in fact titular sees) that have kept their title as bows to their history. Most are in Europe:

In Italy the following abbeys have been united with a diocese:

In other European countries:
  • Clunymarker (in Burgundy; now united with the Diocese of Autun is the only one in France. Historically Cluny was the mother house of the Congregation of Cluny as a result of the Cluniac monastic reform of the 11th century, primarily in that it removed many Benedictine abbeys under its jurisdiction from local feudal allegiances (hence establishing their independence) and had new ones founded. It became extremely rich and influential within and beyond the Church.

Historically there have been more, such as
  • St. Peter-Muenster , which from 1921 until 1998 served a remote area of Saskatchewanmarker, Canadamarker (the abbey still exists, but its territorial jusrisdiction and duties were absorbed by the Diocese of Saskatoon).
  • St. Alexander Orosci, enclaved in the Albanian diocese of Alessio
  • Pinerolomarker, a prince-abbacy in Piedmont later transformed into a bishopric.
  • Abbey of Saint Paul Outside the Wallsmarker in Rome (jurisdiction passed to a newly named archpriest in 2005).
  • Belmont Abbey-Mary, Help of Christians, which was territorial abbey of half of North Carolina from 1910 until 1960, when it lost its last extra-abbatial territory. It was formally suppressed as a territorial abbey in 1977.

Sources and references

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