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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 was usually drawn from specific sources in 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.
At the time of the Domesday Book the canons and dignitaries, in the cathedrals, were supported by the produce and profits from the cathedral estates. The early 12th century saw the development of the additional institution of the endowed prebend, by which each cathedral official was given a fixed, independent income, which 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. The fund (known as communa) was used to provide bread and cash to a canon in residence, which he received in addition to what he made from his prebend.
The positions of 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 is 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 (following the advice of the Prime Minister) 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 contumacious.
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 stalls when in residence in the cathedral.
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