Why Is This Woman Carrying a Shepherd’s Crosier?
The correct answer is B: She is a Benedictine Abbess
Specifically, she is Mother Maria-Thomas Beil, first abbess of St. Walburga Abbey, in Virginia Dale, Colorado.
By long tradition, Benedictine Abbesses carry the crosier as a sign of their office, which, in medieval times, was considered — strictly in terms of her duties toward her spiritual daughters and the management of all concerns, temporal and spiritual, as regarded the abbey properties — so supremely authoritative as to nearly equal to a bishop’s. In fact, in those days abbesses would attend local synods. Even today, an abbess may bless her nuns, give exhortations to them, and even hear “confessions” (but only as pertain to the breaking of the Holy Rule or disruption of the community; she obviously had no faculties to hear a sacramental confession or for absolution.)
In fact, when the diocesan bishop would bless a new abbess, he would ceremoniously present to her the abbatial ring (usually, but not always, passed down, abbess to abbess), the pectoral cross, the keys to the abbey, her crosier — by which she, as Shepherdess, would lead her enclosed sheep — and a bishop’s mitre, which would be carried before the abbess in formal procession during important celebrations. This was true particularly of large abbeys housing over a hundred women and even, double abbeys, like Whitby (most famously led by Hilda of Whitby), which housed both men and women, living seperately but attending choir liturgies, and the Mass, together. As with a bishop, an abbatial crest would be created.
At the Benedictine Abbey of Regina Laudis, in Bethlehem, Connecticut, the recently elected Mother Abbess Lucia Kuppens looked to the land of her abbey, and the skills of her nuns, to create her crosier, pectoral cross, ring and crest. Scroll down to read this very interesting story.
In Rumer Godden’s novel, In This House of Brede, a newly-elected abbess, struggling to accept the weight of her office, recalls a childhood pledge made with her brother, who has lately been made a bishop. “You a bishop,” she marvels, “I an abbess.”
The Abbey of St. Mary of the Resurrection in Abu Ghosh is an example of a modern day double abbey.