Definition of abbess in English:


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  • A woman who is the head of an abbey of nuns.

    ‘Abbots, abbesses and bishops were buried with their croziers, the pastoral staffs symbolic of their office.’
    • ‘One example of this is in his sermon on St. Hilda, the seventh-century abbess who ruled over a double monastery of men and women at Whitby.’
    • ‘There are many women who, as abbesses or as ordinary nuns, did much for learning and welfare.’
    • ‘Most of the early medieval saints were bishops, abbots, and abbesses with an impeccable social pedigree.’
    • ‘This extract from Hildegard of Bingen, an abbess, is from a book of ecstatic visions.’
    • ‘A comparison of the rites for the consecration of an abbot or abbess reveals the emphasis in the former on leadership and strength; in the latter on the need of the abbess for divine support.’
    • ‘She was an orthodox theologian, a reformer, a builder, a dramatist, a musician, an herbalist, and an abbess.’
    • ‘He maintained a correspondence with Marie's youngest daughter, an orthodox abbess named Mother Alexandra.’
    • ‘It was heavily funded by Otto I, who gave the abbess of the monastery much power and privilege.’
    • ‘These animals may have been brought by foreign dignitaries who came to pay their respects to Edith and her mother (the abbess of Wilton and a former queen).’
    • ‘And when it came to details, he was known to be worse than a fussy abbess running a nunnery.’
    • ‘We were on the topic of religious freedom when the abbess went to get our guest some more coffee.’
    • ‘She arrived at the doors of the convent while the abbess was praying in front of the church's crucifix.’
    • ‘Then the abbess of the convent presents Antipholus of Syracuse, also claiming redress.’
    • ‘How she longed to be in the warm company of the abbess and the sisters again.’
    • ‘That is why we have abbesses in our tradition, as well as female doctors of the Church (not to mention queens).’
    • ‘The abbess withheld much from me concerning the fate of my parents.’
    • ‘The abbess questions the existence of the reincarnations.’
    • ‘I have given my word to the abbess and I pledge the same to you, that she will be generously cared for.’
    • ‘Particularly in Germany, where Hildegard lived, being an abbess was a very commanding position.’
    nun, novice, abbess, prioress, Mother Superior, Reverend Mother



/ˈabəs/ /ˈæbəs/


Middle English from Old French abbesse ‘female abbot’, from ecclesiastical Latin abbatissa, from abbas, abbat- (see abbot).