We've all heard of, Westminster Abbey. A treasure house, of paintings, glass, textiles and other artefacts. A place for daily worship with close links to the monarchy.
The first European Abbey was built in 529 on a rugged peak of Monte Cassino, Italy by St. Benedict, founder of western monasticism. It was given the title of Abbey because the monastery's authority were abbots or abbess. The term Abbey is often used instead of the word monastery and has historically been Catholic.
The world was a terrifying place back then, these were the dark ages, government was weak and unruly. People congregated to the safety of these Abbeys. A large Abbey served as administrative, intellectual and spiritual centre. Some housed over a thousand people, several hundred monks, servants and guests. The entire Abbey would be surrounded by a defensive wall of brick and stone since they held much wealth and were easy targets.
Henry VIII dissolved monasteries, and most were destroyed never to be rebuilt.
The elaborate buildings that made up the Abbey consisted of a Church, the centre of the Abbey. Life revolved around church and prayer. The Chapter House, which dealt with the daily running of the Abbey. The Infirmary, to house the sick and aged Monks. The Abbots personal house, a Dormitory for the monks to sleep, a kitchen where they cook meals and a Refectory where they ate, a Hospice where the monks offered free food, for the poor, and the Cellarium, where they stored food. All these buildings were attached together by cloisters of hallways and corridors. The Abbey was surrounded by farms to supply food, a graveyard and usually had their own pond to fish in.
Most Abbey's have long ceased to function as an abbey, in some cases idle for centuries.