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The head of certain autonomous houses of nuns. The title is used among Benedictines, Cistercians, Trappists, Poor Clares, and some canonesses. The earliest known instance is in 514. In the Middle Ages wide powers were claimed by some abbesses, but the Council of Trent put an end to most special prerogatives.

Subjects: Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500) — Christianity.

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