Religious Buildings: Abbey & Priory

When it comes to religion, there are a variety of specific buildings that provide a place of worship for adherents, believers, or followers. In this article, you will learn about the different religious buildings and what they mean to certain religious groups, including Christians.

An Abbey

Run by an abbot or abbess, an abbey is a building that serves as home to monks or nuns. The earliest known example of this Catholic monastery or convent is traced back to the monastic communities once comprised of cells or huts that were established around a common center. Early people associated with early abbeys were used to living on their own and desired to devote their being to spiritual work. They wished to live close to the village church and supported their life by using their own hands as labor. Working the land, they distributed the surplus of their crops or goods to the poor.

The idea of living in this way came from Buddhist monks in 550 BC, but the origin of the monasticism is a term related to the ancient Greeks. When the Christians adapted the tradition, the males were called monks or brethren, and the females were called nuns or sisters. Other cultures that lead a monastic lifestyle include Hindus and Jains, which follow varying practices.

A famous abbey in the world is Westminster Abbey (also known as Collegiate Church of St Peter at Westminster), which is a respected Benedictine abbey. Located in the city of Westminster in London, the church is a large structure displaying Gothic architecture. The abbey is a traditional place of coronation and a burial site for the monarchs throughout history.


A priory is a religious house that is run by a prior or prioress. Sometimes, this type of building is under the control of an abbey. A priory may house men or women who have taken religious vows. Sometimes, the houses are home to mendicant friars or religious sisters, who have taken vows of poverty and must rely on charitable donations and begging to survive. Examples of these kinds of religious people are the Dominicans, Augustinians, Carmelites, and the Carthusians.

In France, there was the Priory de Graville, which was constructed during the time of William the Conqueror. Today, tourists visit the site to view its collection of religious art.

Sometimes, a priory is the term used to refer to a school that is run or sponsored by the Benedictines, such as the Saint Louis Priory School , a Roman Catholic secondary day school for boys in a suburban part of St. Louis, Missouri. Another example is the Woodside Priory School in Portola Valley, California, which offers an independent, coeducational setting that offers college preparation as a day and boarding school that follows the Benedictine tradition.