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Today the word is almost synonymous with "monk" or "priest:" there are religious orders called the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, etc. But in earlier times the term was applied to a child, often the first-born son, who was dedicated to God and placed in a monastery or convent to be brought up by the monks or nuns.

The practice can be traced back at least to Old Testament times (the prophet Samuel and St. Mary the Virgin are two from the Bible), and there are several other examples in this list: the Venerable Bede, Skanudharova, Heiric of Auxerre, and St. Hildegard of Bingen.

It has also been a practice in other religions: the Tibetan high lamas (Dalai Lamas) are raised in monasteries after they are identified, young Buddhist boys are often sent for a few years to live as monks, there are the Rat-Children of Shah Daula in Pakistan, and the ancient Egyptians had the institution of the God's Wife. Along with the Rat-Children of Shah Daula, two other extremely unsavory variants of the oblate practice are endured by the Devadasi of India and the Trokosi of Ghana. It does not always mean being cut off from your birth family.


Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, edited by F.L. Cross. (London: Oxford University Press, 1957)


19th Century
Oblates, Dedicated to God
Institutional Care
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