Abbies disser from Priories, in that the one are under the Direction of an Abbot, and the other of a Prior : but Abbot and Prior (we mean a Prior Conventual) are the same thing ; and only differ in Name. See PRIOR.
Fauchet observes, that in the early Days of the French Monarchy, Dukes and Counts were call'd Abbots, and Duchies and Counties Abbies. Many Persons of the prime Quality, without any Concern in the Monastic Life, took thesame Quality ; even some of their Kings are mention'd in History under the Title of Abbots. Philip I. Louis VI. and afterwards the Dukes of Orleans, are call'd Abbots of the Monastery of S. Agnan. The Dukes of Aquitain were call'd Abbots of the Monastery of S. Hilary, at Poitiers ; and the Earls of Anjou of S. Aubin, &c.
The Abbess has the same Rights, and Authority over her Nuns that the Abbots regular have over their Monks. See ABBOT.
The Sex indeed does not allow her to perform the Spiritual Functions annex'd to the Priesthood, wherewith the Abbot is usually invested; but there are Instances of some Abesses, who have a Right, or rather a Privilege, to commission a Priest to act for 'em. They have even a kind of Episcopal Jurisdiction, as well as some Abbots, who are exempted from the Visitation of their Diocesans. See EXEMPTION.
What distinguish'd 'em, was, that they made it a Duty to marry, and yet liv'd with their Wives in a prosess'd Continence, without having any commerce together.
These Hereticks, inconsiderable in themselves, (for they were confin'd to a little compass, and lasted not long ;) are become considerable, by the great Pains the Learned have taken to ascertain the Principle they went upon, and the Reason of the Denomination.