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What is a Glebe?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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A glebe is a tract of land that belongs to a church. It is used to maintain the church and its staff, and sometimes also to generate funds that can be sent to the seat of the church. Glebes have shrunk substantially from their historical origins, which is why numerous developments and estates around the world include the word in their titles, referencing their origins.

The concept of glebe land is quite ancient, although the term itself only dates to the early 1300s. Most religions have recognized that land is necessary for the church itself, along with associated facilities like housing for staff and space for the charitable works of the church, such as orphanages. In addition to these lands, many churches historically also held farms, factories, and other land that could be used to generate income for the church. In the feudal era, the church could use these lands to wield immense power, and it often came into conflict with wealthy lords and landowners who resented the amount of land controlled by the church.

Historically, ownership of glebe land was vested in the incumbent who held the office of priest, minister, or parson. The land could be rented out and used as the incumbent saw fit, and when he retired, died, or left the parish, the glebe would pass into the hands of his successor. It was sometimes used as an incentive to encourage priests to settle, as in the American Colonies, when people who were willing to serve in rural areas would be rewarded with substantial glebe lands.

Originally, churches were expected to sustain themselves entirely with income from the glebe, sending income from tithing to the parent church. Over time, the system began to change, and as the glebe shrank, churches were allowed to keep more of their tithing income. Ownership of the land also passed into the control of the church in many cases, rather than being vested in the incumbent, to promote management that would benefit the church as a whole.

Some parishes have been forced to sell chunks of their glebe land due to lack of funds and the changing nature of religious faith. Land with residences is sometimes in high demand, especially if the residences are old, as some people view old Church housing as aesthetically or personally desirable. Old rectories, parsonages, and so forth are also often located near the church and the graveyard, creating a relatively calm and quiet environment that many people appreciate.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Historical Index researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments
By lovealot — On Sep 16, 2011

Since churches were established, it was necessary for them to have glebe property around the church. They needed land to build living quarters for the staff and maybe for orphanages or a living space for the very poor.

There is an old church up on the Montmartre section of Paris. For a long time, they had a vineyard next to the church. The church leaders maintained the grapes and made a delicious wine, which everyone wanted to buy.

At this time, all that is left of the vineyard is one small block. The grapes are still grown and they make a small amount of wine.

This is how many churches in France and Italy earned a livelihood. They, also, probably enjoyed having a ready supply of wine.

By StarJo — On Sep 15, 2011

The glebe land of my church is where the building, parsonage, and graveyard are located. We don’t have any farms or factories, and the buildings are pretty modern. The parsonage just underwent renovation and now is much more energy efficient in its design.

Many years ago, church members used to grow cotton on this land. The income from selling the cotton went to pay the electric and water bills. Any surplus was put into a savings account.

Today, the bill money comes from tithes. We also have to pay someone to mow and care for the graveyard. It’s good that the church owns the glebe land, because we never have to pay rent.

By lighth0se33 — On Sep 14, 2011

There is a church a few miles from my house that operates on glebe land. It is the only one I know of that includes a farm which the members maintain.

I’m not sure of the denomination, but it is one where the members live a pretty simple life. I often see them out there in the fields, plowing or picking. They even have a chicken house. They split the food among themselves, and they save a lot on groceries by doing this.

A large building attached to the church serves as a home for any member in need. They know that the door is always open to them in case of disaster.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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