Now nearly extinct as a profession or rank within the Church, during the middle ages, Abbots were important church figures who wielded considerable religious and worldly power. Abbots ruled over monasteries like their own personal kingdoms, and often had considerable wealth thanks to the lands that were owned by the monastery, which sometimes included entire villages and their serf inhabitants.
In this illustration by Holbein, Death has deprived the abbot of his miter, the symbol of his power and authority, but the abbot is not about to go quietly. He is fighting against death and is about to throw his breviary at Death.
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Holbein - the Dance of Death.