A priory is a monastery of men or women under religious vows that is headed by a prior or prioress. Priories may be houses of mendicant friars or religious sisters (as the Dominicans, Augustinians, Franciscans, and Carmelites, for instance), or monasteries of monks or nuns (as the Benedictines). Houses of canons regular and canonesses regular also use this term, the alternative being "canonry".
Priories first came to existence in Britain in the physical sense as subsidiaries to the Abbey of Cluny. Many new houses were formed that were all subservient to the abbey of Cluny and called Priories. As such, the priory came to represent the Benedictine ideals espoused by the Cluniac reforms as smaller, lesser houses of Benedictines of Cluny. Many such houses were formed, all as subsidiaries of Cluny and seem to have clouded the monastic evolution of England in name.
The Benedictines and their offshoots (Cistercians and Trappists among them), the Premonstratensians, and the military orders distinguish between conventual and simple or obedientiary priories. Conventual priories are those autonomous houses which have no abbots, either because the canonically required number of twelve monks has not yet been reached, or for some other reason. At present the Benedictine Order has twenty-seven conventual priories. Simple or obedientiary priories are dependencies of abbeys. Their superior, who is subject to the abbot in everything, is called a "prior." These monasteries are satellites of the mother abbey. The Cluniac order is notable for being organised entirely on this obedientiary principle, with a single abbot at the Abbey of Cluny, and all other houses dependent priories.
Priory may also refer to schools operated or sponsored by the Benedictines, such as the Saint Louis Priory School or the Woodside Priory School. Priory is also used to refer to the geographic headquarters of several commanderies of knights.
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