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Prebendary: Wikis


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A prebendary is a post connected to an Anglican or Catholic cathedral or collegiate church and is a type of canon. Prebendaries have a role in the administration of the cathedral. A prebend is a type of benefice, which usually consisted of the income from the cathedral estates.

When attending cathedral services prebendaries sit in particular seats, usually at the back of the choir stalls. These are known as prebendal stalls.


Prebends and nearly all collegiate churches in England were dissolved by Henry VIII in 1547 as part of the English Reformation by the Act for the Dissolution of Collegiate Churches and Chantries. St Endellion, Cornwall, is one of those still in existence.

The title Prebendary was still retained by certain dioceses however, with the dioceses of Lichfield, Lincoln and London being significant examples, as an honorary title for senior parish priests. This is usually awarded as a recognition of long and dedicated service to the diocese. These priests are entitled to call themselves Prebendary (usually shortened to Preb.) and still have a role in the administration of the cathedral.

The Greater Chapter of a cathedral includes both the Residentiary Canons (the full time senior cathedral clergy) and the prebendaries (and in London the minor canons too). In the Church of England, when a diocesan bishop retires, moves to another diocese or dies, the monarch will summon the Greater Chapter to elect a successor. This election is ceremonial as the monarch also tells the members of the Greater Chapter whom to elect. If members of the Greater Chapter fail to attend they are declared to be contemptuous.

Saint Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin, Ireland, still calls its canons Prebendaries as does Wells Cathedral. They form the Chapter of the cathedral, and sit in their prebendal stall when in residence in the cathedral.


  • Cutts, E. L. (1895) A Dictionary of the Church of England; 3rd ed. London: S.P.C.K., p. 476

External links


1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

PREBENDARY (Lat. praebendo = give or grant, through Low Lat. praebenda), one who holds a prebend, namely an endowment in land, or pension in money, given to a cathedral or conventual church in praebendam - that is, for the maintenance of a secular priest or regular canon. In the early Church the title had a more general signification. The word praebenda originally signified the daily rations given to soldiers, whence it passed to indicate daily distributions of food and drink to monks, canons, &c. It became a frequent custom to grant such a prebend from the resources of a monastery to certain poor people or to the founder. Such persons were, literally, prebendaries. At a later date, when the custom in collegiate churches of living in common had become less general, a certain amount of the church revenue was divided among the clergy serving such a church, and each portion (no longer of meat or drink only) was called a prebend. The clergy of such churches were generally canons, and the titles canon and prebendary were, and are, sometimes used as synonymous. A member of such a college is a canon in virtue of the spiritual duties which he has to perform, and the assignation to him of a stall in choir and a place in chapter; he is a prebendary in virtue of his benefice. In the Roman Catholic Church the duties of a prebendary as such generally consist in his attendance at choral office in his church. In the Anglican Church he usually bears his part in. the conducting of the ordinary church services, except when he has a vicar, as in the old cathedral foundations (see Cathedral). A prebendary may be either simple or a dignitary. In the former case he has no cure and no more than his revenue for his support; in the latter he has always a jurisdiction annexed. In the Anglican Church the bishop is of common right patron of all prebends, and if a prebend is in the gift of a lay patron he must present his candidate to the bishop who institutes as to other benefices. No person may hold more than one prebend in the same church; therefore, if a prebendary accepts a deanery in his church his prebend becomes void by cession. A prebend is practically a sinecure, and the holder has no cure of souls as such. He may, and often does, accept a parochial office or chaplaincy in addition.

In the middle ages there were many less regular kinds of prebends: e.g. praebenda doctoralis, with which teaching duties were connected, praebenda lectoralis, praebenda missae, to which the duty of saying a certain number of masses was attached, praebenda mortuaria, founded for the saying of masses for the dead. Chantries belonged to this class. All these prebends were generally assigned to special holders, but there were also praebendae currentes, which were not held by any persons in particular. Sometimes prebends were held by boys who sang in choir, praebendae pueriles. Occasionally the name of prebendary was applied to those servants in a monastery who attended to the food. In England the word prebendary was sometimes used as synonymous with prebend, as prebend was occasionally used for prebendary. Du Cange, Glossarium mediae et infimae latinitatis, ed. L. Favre (Niort, 1883, &c.); Migne, Encyclopedie theologique, 1st series, vol. x. (s. Droit Canon); Sir R. J. Phillimore, Ecclesiastical Law of the Church of England (2nd ed., 1895). (E. O'N.)

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