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Abbey vs. Priory: What's the Difference?

Edited by Harlon Moss || By Janet White || Published on December 8, 2023
An abbey is a monastery or convent under the authority of an abbot or abbess, often large and influential; a priory is similar but smaller, led by a prior or prioress.

Key Differences

An abbey is a Christian monastery or convent, governed by an abbot or abbess, often housing a large community of monks or nuns. However, a priory is also a monastery or convent but typically smaller, led by a prior or prioress, and may be subordinate to an abbey.
Abbeys usually have significant historical and architectural importance, often serving as centers of religious, economic, and cultural activity. Priories, while also important, are generally less influential and smaller in scale compared to abbeys.
The head of an abbey, an abbot or abbess, holds considerable autonomy and authority over their establishment. In contrast, the head of a priory, a prior or prioress, might be subordinate to an abbot or abbess of an affiliated abbey.
Abbeys often own more land and have larger, more elaborate church buildings, reflecting their higher status and wealth. Priories tend to have more modest facilities and land holdings, indicative of their typically lower status in the religious hierarchy.
Both abbeys and priories serve as centers for religious life, abbeys have historically been more involved in regional politics and societal affairs, whereas priories focus more on local community and spiritual activities.

Comparison Chart

Size and Influence

Larger, more influential
Smaller, less influential


Governed by an abbot or abbess
Led by a prior or prioress


High autonomy and authority
Often subordinate to an abbey

Facilities and Land

Larger buildings, more land
More modest buildings, less land

Role in Society

Historically involved in regional politics
Focuses more on local community and spirituality

Abbey and Priory Definitions


Abbeys often serve as important religious and cultural centers.
The abbey was a hub for pilgrims and scholars alike.


Priories may serve specific local religious and community functions.
The priory was known for its outreach to the local villagers.


An abbey is a monastery or convent led by an abbot or abbess.
The medieval abbey stood majestically on the hillside.


A priory focuses on the spiritual life of a smaller community.
Life in the priory revolved around prayer and contemplation.


An abbey typically has extensive land holdings and elaborate buildings.
The abbey's vast grounds were known for their beautiful gardens.


Priories are often subordinate to an abbey and part of a larger monastic order.
The priory was a branch of a famous abbey in the region.


Abbeys can be autonomous, independent religious communities.
The abbey operated independently from the local diocese.


A priory is a smaller religious establishment led by a prior or prioress.
The quiet priory was nestled in a secluded valley.


Historic abbeys often have significant architectural heritage.
Tourists flocked to see the ancient frescoes in the abbey.


Priories usually have modest facilities compared to abbeys.
The priory's simple chapel was a place of serene worship.


A monastery supervised by an abbot.


A monastery governed by a prior or a convent governed by a prioress.


A convent supervised by an abbess.


A monastery or convent governed by a prior or prioress.


A church that is or once was part of a monastery or convent.


A religious house presided over by a prior or prioress; - sometimes an offshoot of, an subordinate to, an abbey, and called also cell, and obedience. See Cell, 2.


The office or dominion of an abbot or abbess.


Religious residence in a monastery governed by a prior or a convent governed by a prioress


A monastery or society of people, secluded from the world and devoted to religion and celibacy, which is headed by an abbot or abbess; also, the monastic building or buildings.
From 1199 to 1203 William Punchard was the abbot of the abbey of Rievaulx, which was part of the Cistercian order of monks.


The church of a monastery.


(British English) A residence that was previously an abbatial building.


A monastery or society of persons of either sex, secluded from the world and devoted to religion and celibacy; also, the monastic building or buildings.


The church of a monastery.


A church associated with a monastery or convent


A convent ruled by an abbess


A monastery ruled by an abbot


What is an abbey?

An abbey is a large monastery or convent led by an abbot or abbess.

Are abbeys independent?

Yes, abbeys are often independent and self-governing.

What is a priory?

A priory is a smaller religious establishment led by a prior or prioress.

Are priories always subordinate?

Many priories are subordinate to abbeys, but some can be independent.

Do abbeys have significant land?

Yes, abbeys typically have extensive land holdings.

Do priories have extensive lands?

Priories usually have less land than abbeys.

Are abbeys part of the church hierarchy?

Abbeys are part of the church hierarchy but often have significant autonomy.

Can women lead a priory?

Yes, women can lead a priory as prioresses.

Can women lead an abbey?

Yes, women can lead an abbey as abbesses.

What is the main focus of a priory?

Priories focus on spiritual life and serving local communities.

Are priories always smaller than abbeys?

Generally, priories are smaller than abbeys, but there can be exceptions.

Do priories engage in regional politics?

Priories are less involved in politics, focusing more on local community.

Is a priory always religious?

Traditionally, priories are religious, but the term can be used more broadly.

Do priories provide education?

Some priories may offer education, particularly in religious studies.

Are modern priories still active?

Yes, many modern priories are active religious communities.

Are abbeys historical landmarks?

Many abbeys are historical landmarks with significant architectural heritage.

How old are the oldest abbeys?

Some of the oldest abbeys date back to the early Middle Ages.

Do abbeys have educational roles?

Historically, many abbeys played important educational roles in their communities.

Do abbeys offer community services?

Yes, abbeys often provide various community services and outreach.

Can an abbey own a priory?

Yes, an abbey can have priories under its jurisdiction.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.

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