The ancient practice of creating certain abbeys as abbeys nullius (literally, “Abbeys of no one”) has its roots in the ancient Church.  Traditionally, abbeys were created in mission territories, and the abbot of these institutions, while usually still a priest, was given territorial jurisdiction as an ordinary.  These abbots nullius enjoythe pontificalia and precedence of bishops, and, as Christianity spread, their abbeys remained outside of the territorial jurisdiction of the local ordinary.

A famous Abbey nullius was Cluny (the only one in France,) which was the home of the Cluniac reform.  It was granted its special status in order to insulate it from the corruption of the local churches.   Cluny became an enclave of orthodox Catholicism during the excesses of the early middle ages.

Since Vatican II, the Church has placed an emphasis on the unity of parishes with bishop-ordinaries.  As a result, Paul VI decreed that no further abbeys nullius would be erected, and all would eventually be reintegrated into their local diocese in due time.

Presently, there are eleven abbeys nullius left.  At least three (in Saskatchewan, Brazil, and Rome) have been integrated in the last ten years.

The remaining eleven are:

  • Maria Einsiedein- Switzerland
  • Monte Oliveto Maggiore- Italy
  • Montecassino- Italy
  •  Montevergine- Italy
  • Pannonhalma- Hungary
  • Saint-Maurice- Switzerland
  • SantaMaria di Grottaferrata- Italy
  • Santissima Trinitia di Cava de Tirreni- Italy (Italo-Albanese Rite)
  • Subiaco- Italy
  • Wettingen-Meherau- Austria
  • Tokugen- North Korea (an interesting case- it was vacant for 50 years until being recently reoccupied by Korean monks.  Since it is a Catholic monastery without any geographical connection to a diocese, it remains an abbey nullius, in  apparent, but necessary, contradiction to the policy set by Paul VI)