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 mitre, 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.
Next: The Abbess
The Dance of Death is an important allegory commenting on human mortality and the passing transience of life. It depicts Death as a fairly jovial skeleton armed with a scythe, who invites his victims to a dance which invariably ends in their demise. The point of the allegory is that no one can refuse its invitation to the dance: hgh church officials, kings or paupers, all must dance and eventually die.