A prebendary is a member of the Roman Catholic or Anglican clergy, a form of canon with a role in the administration of a cathedral or collegiate church. When attending services, prebendaries sit in particular seats, usually at the back of the choir stalls, known as prebendal stalls.
At the time of the Domesday Book in 1086, the canons and dignitaries of the cathedrals of England were supported by the produce and other profits from the cathedral estates. In the early 12th century, the endowed prebend was developed as an institution, in possession of which a cathedral official had a fixed and independent income. This made the cathedral canons independent of the bishop, and created posts that attracted the younger sons of the nobility. Part of the endowment was retained in a common fund, known in Latin as communia, which was used to provide bread and money to a canon in residence in addition to the income from his prebend.
Most prebends disappeared in 1547, when nearly all collegiate churches in England and Wales were dissolved by the Act for the Dissolution of Collegiate Churches and Chantries of that year, as part of the Reformation. The church of St Endellion, Cornwall, is one of the few still extant.
The office of prebendary is retained by certain Church of England dioceses (those of Lichfield, Lincoln, and London being significant examples) as an honorary title for senior parish priests, usually awarded in recognition of long and dedicated service to the diocese. These priests are entitled to be called "Prebendary" (usually shortened to Preb.) and have a role in the administration of the relevant cathedral. Prebendaries have a prebendal stall in certain cathedrals and collegiate churches.
The greater chapter of a cathedral includes both the residentiary canons (full-time senior cathedral clergy) and the prebendaries (and, in London, the Minor Canons). 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 (following the advice of the prime minister) tells the members of the greater chapter whom they are to elect.
Wells Cathedral and Saint Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin still call their canons "prebendaries". They form the chapter of the cathedral and sit in their prebendal stalls when in residence in the cathedral.
The prebend is the form of benefice held by a prebendary: historically, the stipend attached to it was usually drawn from specific sources in the income of a cathedral's estates. In the 21st century, many remaining prebendaries hold an honorary position which does not carry an income with it.
- See list of holders in 'Canons residentiary of Salisbury', in Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae 1541-1857: Volume 6, Salisbury Diocese, ed. Joyce M Horn (London, 1986), pp. 93-105
- Greenaway, Diane E, "The Medieval Cathedral", in Hobbs, Mary (ed.), Chichester Cathedral: An Historical Survey, Phillimore & Co, p. 14.
- Cantor, Norman F (1993), The Civilization of the Middle Ages, p. 381.
- Walcott, M.E.C. (1865). Cathedralia: a constitutional history of Cathedrals of the Western Church. Being an account of the various dignities, offices, and ministries of their members, etc. London: Joseph Masters. p. 120. Retrieved 20 April 2022.
- The Reliquary and Illustrated Archaeologist,: A Quarterly Journal and Review Devoted to the Study of Early Pagan and Christian Antiquities of Great Britain. J. R. Smith. 1893. pp. 194.
- The best of Betjeman. 1978. p. 150. ISBN 978-0-7195-3555-0.
The Rector of St Endellion is also a Prebendary. This church is run by a college of priests like St George's Chapel, Windsor.
- Cutts, E. L. (1895) A Dictionary of the Church of England; 3rd ed. London: SPCK, p. 476.
- "Prebendary, Church of England", Debretts Archived 2015-03-16 at the Wayback Machine