http://www.stpaulswickford.org/ I hope you will enjoy this slide show made today on a visit to historic St. Paul’s in Wickford. The afternoon winter light was just right for viewing the wonderful contemporary and Victorian stained glass. The sacristy is a real treat, with pale cabinetry and a good deal of natural light. There is lots of great storage and room for tall vases. Be sure to check out the last slide of frontlet storage which is suspended from rods in a pull out drawer access- very clever! A little jewel box of a sacristy. Do visit the website above for the history of the parish. The views of the water out of the windows are breath-taking.
“Presently, my firm is redesigning the sacristy at our church which was originally built in @ 1950. This is the only article that I have been able to find on the subject although our clergy has tried to contact a number of churches for suggestions. Thank you!
Photo from St. Peter’s in Columbia, Tennesee
This has been a week for receiving calls or emails about a problem many guilds share across the state- and the country. How do we entice new members to altar guild work? Along with this plaintive cry comes an affiliated sidebar, “Our gals are getting weary of the “holy housework”.” It’s a busy world today, with every hour crammed with places to go and things to do. For all the modern conveniences, it seems we are expected to do more and do it faster. Some guild members have been on the job for decades, some directresses have stayed on because nobody wants to take over the responsibilities. Burn-out is an expected commodity and the feeling guilty part about having this slump is not surprising. Here are some ideas I have found which work to inject some energy in the crucial ministry we perform in our parishes.
1. Have regular meetings of the guild, maybe monthly with a summer break.
2. Schedule your meetings at a time convenient for working members or members with young children. For instance, Thursday morning at 10 a.m. will reduce dramatically the possibility of attending for many. Early evening around 7-7:30 is an excellent window to accommodate young families and working persons.
3. Sons, husbands, fathers, and MEN in general are wonderful candidates for altar guild work. More and more guilds are discovering that women are not the only possibility for altar guild members! The guys are great at brass-polishing, handyman chores, church garden maintenance, constructing much-needed spaces and shelving in the sacristy, and yes- I have seen beautiful flower-arranging work done by men, and even ironing! One husband member made an ingenious cruet -drying device using wooden dowels. The cruets are washed and inverted over the dowels to dry. Tiverton has a fantastic mother and son brass polishing team- you should see that brass shine at Holy Trinity!
4. Have an annual Christmas party and June end-of-year luncheon at a local restaurant or in a member’s home.
5. Consider an “Open Sacristy” one Sunday in your church. After services, invite the congregation to see the sacristy. Have some of the most beautiful hangings and metalware on display, and be on hand to answer questions. You have no idea how many times I have heard parishioners shrink away from going near a sacristy- “Oh, I am not supposed to go in there”! You’d be surprised at how many folks think something mysterious happens in sacristies, just for the special few to enjoy. Yes, there are wonderful mysteries in our church to be sure, but the sacristy and the work done there should be information everyone can access without trepidation.
6. Offer training for probationers. The director should be able to facilitate this. Often newbies are scared of making a big mistake. Nobody is born knowing all about altar guild work. Training is fun. Assign a new candidate to a long-time member until he/she feels comfortable. Every member should know ALL facets of altar guild work.
7. Every member should have their own altar guild manual. Second- hand Diggs or Sturges/Gent or Edith Perry manuals are available through Morehouse or on Ebay or through used books services like alibris, Bookfind or Amazon.com.
8. Plan a parish visit to another sacristy. Your altar guild can pay a call on a nearby sacristy (Saturday mornings are perfect). Then reciprocate by having the host guild visit YOUR sacristy. Refreshments and a social time after will add some fun and you will enjoy seeing other ways of doing things, exchanging products tips, seeing vestments, needlepoint, metalware, etc. is great fun and can be very useful and informative.
9. Invite a speaker to a regular meeting. Flower arranging, textiles, history of vestments, conservation, church architecture, are all fun topics. Refreshment and education for your guild members is critical.
10. Guild work days can foster a sense of teamwork. Cleaning out closets, polishing and dusting and a general overhaul twice a year can be fun if done as a guild. Afterward, a lunch and social time at a local eatery is a great reward! Also consider an embroidery or needlepoint circle if you have enough women interested in handwork. Old linens can be recycled into small linens, new small linens can be made, repairs done on a guild “Sewing Afternoon”.
11. Invite your Diocesan or Provincial Directress to pay a call to one of your guild meetings.
12. Don’t be afraid to “take a break”. At one time Directresses used to serve no more than 3 years, then were replaced by a new person. The rector was in charge of this appointment. Sometimes a year off to pursue other ministry work in the church or in the community can recharge the batteries, and you will return refreshed and renewed to the altar guild.
13. Visit museums to see religious art and textiles- and read about your “craft” to learn the history of vestments, textiles, church architecture. The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston has wonderful historic vestments.
14. In September, a Ministries Night in your guild hall may be just the thing! Each ministry has a table set up, the altar guild may display some vestments, flower arrangement, etc., and have a little printed handout about “What We Do” . Staff your table with members of the guild who can answer questions. This is your frontline for recruitment!
15. Ask your rector/vicar to do an “Illustrated Eucharist”. This is a wonderful teaching opportunity whereby the celebrant explains the WHY of everything that happens at the Eucharist as it is being celebrated. As each vestment is put on, the priest will explain what it means and where it comes from. Why do we genuflect, why is the Host and chalice elevated? To learn about the “equipment”, ritual, and ceremonial of our church is important for altar guild members and congregants alike.
16. Consider a junior altar guild for the youth in the parish.
17. Bring a daughter, grand daughter, niece, nephew, etc. to your team work day to help and see how things are done.
18. Invite your rector to a meeting. He/she may love an opportunity to offer appreciation for work done by the guild, suggest ideas, discuss vestments and needs for the sacristy, etc.
Don’t be afraid to suggest ideas to your parish directress. She is there to coordinate the work of the guild and to keep a lively, inspired and dedicated team on task. Input from guild members is always valuable for directors/directresses to hear. Don’t be afraid to try something new!
Sorry to be missing in action for so long. June flew by helping my youngest to relocate to Hartford. It was a busy month. In May the parish administrators gathered for our annual luncheon. This year St. Peter’s in Narragansett was our host church. St. Peter’s is one of the most beautiful churches in the Diocese with its magnificent Gothic Revival architecture and Victorian stained glass. The high altar stained glass gives a golden glow as the story of St. Elizabeth and the miracle of the roses is portrayed. When the sun shines through this East window, the entire nave is bathed in the warm hues.
Also remarkable is the Victorian stencilling within the chancel, executed in the warm terracotta, ochre and moss green palette of the pre-Raphaelites. What a blessing this remarkable decoration was not covered up with tan paint as was the “style” at the turn of the 20th century when new fads were taken up.
The stained glass is worth the trip in itself, with a magnificent Tiffany angel and a seagull over the waves also from the Tiffany studio. The gull had to be back lit when the guild hall was built and covered the window from natural light. There are many fine examples of Victorian glass, some with fascinating and tragic stories. Varina Jefferson Davis, wife of Jefferson Davis, although a lady of the old South, was much admired by the ladies of the town when she would visit Narragansett in summer, and her memorial window bears her name. A striking window featuring a lovely angel and three cherubs has a sad story. Della Waters of Fall River, who had suffered from severe depression and who had recently been in a sanitarium, took her three young children and was heading on a Fall River boat from New York City back to her family home in Fall River when she, in a fit of despair, threw the children into the ocean and jumped in herself just off Block Island. Their bodies were never recovered. The Waters family had a summer home in Narragansett and dedicated this window.
The small sacristy is a model of neatness, and every square inch is utilized. Note the towel rods on the wall for storing fair linens! If cleanliness is next to Godliness, St. Peter’s must be very close to heaven. Do not miss the memorial garden on the west side, which is filled with perennials and herbs and divine roses!
Please click on the link below the vintage print to view a wonderful video made by Karen Vorbeck Williams at St. Stephen’s Church in Providence on the occasion of the ordination of Fr. Tuck on January 23th. The music on the video is from the S. Stephen’s Schola Cantorum’s album Stephen Full of Grace . The Most Rev’d Frank T. Griswold ordained the Rev’d Michael G. Tuck to the Sacred Order of Priests.
I know you will also enjoy seeing the beautiful chapel with the singular glass Gothic screen, the vestments, and the glorious procession.
This Sunday marks a very important feast in the church year, as well as closing the church Year B. We take down the green hangings which have been up so long in the Season After Pentecost. Now is a good time to get those cleaned and steamed. Next Sunday we will find ourselves in Advent I, the birthday of the church. Christ the King, sometimes called Feast of the Reign of Christ in some parishes, is a feast for extra care in preparation of the altar and decorations. The best white set of vestments and hangings are brought out, touches of gold or silver are appropriate, the brass should gleam, and white flowers are particularly lovely. Next Sunday will mark a great change as the altar once again becomes subdued, flowers are put aside until Christmas Eve. In some parishes boxwood or plain evergreens might be seen sparingly. The Advent wreath becomes a focal point. Some parishes will use a “Christ Candle” of white in the center of the Advent wreath of three purple and one rose candle. This white candle will be lit on Christmas Eve at midnight services.
Some churches in our diocese have a cross bearing the Christus Rex in their sanctuaries. Christ Church in Westerly has a large one in the side chapel. Some church supply catalogues sell the figure alone or on a cross in several sizes and ready to be mounted on the wall.
The time for preparation begins for Altar Guilds all over the world: ordering candles and bobeches, writing and mailing the annual Flower Memorials letter, checking on supplies of wine and bread, placing orders at local nurseries and flower shops, polishing brass and silver, pressing the best linens, ordering incense, polishing the thurible, tidying sacristies for the busy days to come, and the many other little services performed by faithful hands year in and year out as the great Feast of the Nativity approaches. The sweet-smelling quiet of the sacristy is a wonderful place to be at this time of year.
The prie-dieu (singular) or prayer desk once seen in most Episcopal churches is becoming a rarer article these days. Literally meaning “pray (to) God”, these items of convenience for prayers and devotions have been around for centuries-both as home furnishings for private prayers and also in chapels, in front of votive stands, at marriage ceremonies for the bride and groom to kneel upon, in front of shrines to saints, and in priests’ sacristies for prayer preparation before Mass. Often today a long kneeler has taken the places of the wedding prie-dieux and real candle votive stands are on the wane. Those electrified candles alas, aren’t quite the same thing! Still a staple in most Episcopal churches are kneelers in a hassock style, or pull-down hard kneelers on a wooden frame.
The prie-dieu to the left is from 1830. Some prie-dieux look very like a chair with an elongated back with a padded top for missals, breviaries and prayer books to perch while kneeling. Monastic prie-dieux have shelves for storage of materials needed during the many offices around the clock. The Episcopal church, especially after WWII adopted the needlepoint kneeler in pews, and on prie-dieux kneelers and padded tops. Trinity Church in Newport has an extraordinary collection of needlepoint kneelers and prie-dieux. That of the rector’s wife, situated in front of the pulpit, is of needlepoint in a pale shade and features violets, the state flower of Rhode Island.
Royalty, saints and even the Virgin Mary are often portrayed in art kneeling in pious attitudes on a prie-dieu. Prie-dieux have been made of every possible material, in every style according to the current taste, elaborate, simple, decorated and plain. with all manner of upholstery and padding. The prie-dieu of important persons have often survived to be preserved in museums. Simple, sturdy, and well-constructed ones have survived in humble convents and monasteries and are still in use.
The amazing gilded prie-dieu to the right is from 1706 Italy and not surprisingly belonged to a lady of great rank and privilege.
A simple prie-dieu offered in a style still very affordable and obtainable through most church furnishing catalogues. The kneeler would look well in needlepoint.
The famous architect, and decorative arts designer and artisan, Augustus Welby Pugin, (1812-1852) who created masterpieces of Gothic Revival style from jewelry to the Parliament buildings in London designed a prie-dieu which had everything included in one impressive design.
Recently I received an inquiry about a symbol of a pelican which was embroidered on the back of a chasuble. When the priest celebrated Mass with back facing the congregation, the beautiful embroidery work was always displayed in the orphreys and vesica on the back of the vestment, often a cross or a symbol of an animal or flower, an object, or sacred monogram. A sign or icon, such as the Pelican , is an object, character, figure, or color used to represent abstract ideas or concepts – a picture that represents an idea. A religious icon, such as the Pelican Christian Symbol, is an image or symbolic representation with sacred significance. “The meanings, origins and ancient traditions surrounding Christian symbols date back to early times when the majority of ordinary people were not able to read or write and printing was unknown. Many were ‘borrowed’ or drawn from early pre-Christian traditions, however the symbol of the pelican, unlike many early Christian symbols, is almost exclusively a Christian icon”. (Catholic Saints)
The pelican can often be seen in stained glass windows, an altar reredos
vestment vesicas, or carved in pew ends or other church architectural elements.
‘Pelican in her piety’ in heraldry and symbolical art, is a representation of a pelican in the act of wounding her breast in order to nourish her young with her blood a practice fabulously attributed to the bird. The pelican cutting open its own breast represents Christ’s death on the cross, and the shedding of his blood to revive us and therefore adopted as a symbol of the Redeemer and of charity. An explanation of this is that the pelican’s bill has a crimson red tip and the contrast of this red tip against the white breast probably gave rise to the tradition that the bird tore her own breast to feed her young with her blood.” (Catholic Saints)
Perhaps the most familiar of these textile panels is the dossal, sometime called a “dorsal” which refers to the back curtain panel behind the altar where generally a reredos would be found. Most likely the original word was dorsal, and dossal is a corruption of the word. A dossal may be a flat panel with a central large motif or it may be a gathered width of textile. Both types are suspended by a strong iron rod which is held in place by rod holders secured in the stone or wood. It seems likely that dossals had their origin in order to give dignity and beauty behind altars which had no beautiful carved or painted altarpiece or reredos. The addition of riddels, or side curtains might be a further enhancement for the altar or perhaps a practical draft blocker in chilly, drafty old stone cathedrals. In the photo to the left, four elaborate riddel posts are visible from which horizontal support rods are suspended for hanging the side curtains. The combination of dossal and riddels is not uncommon in the United Kingdom. A favorite textile pattern for these curtains is a small all-over floral or a tapestry of multicolor floral which will harmonize with all frontal colors. A plain unbleached linen is shown in the photo to the left as the curtain choice because the altar is dressed in Lenten array.
Below is pattern Braganza - a popular choice for a dossal along with Portuguese, Verona, Coronation
It is more rare to find a tester which overhangs the altar as a sort of canopy and is usually attached to the top of the dossal or is in fact simply all of a piece draped over a tester frame (see photo below).
The photo below shows a half-dossal and riddel arangement with a veiled hanging pyx suspended above the altar . The frontal with attached superfrontlet is in the familiar Portuguese tapestry pattern shown here with an attractive diced fringe. Note the riddel posts.
From A Dictionary of Architecture and Landscape by James Stevens Curl
riddel(I) or riddle. In a church, the curtains suspended around an altar, sometimes from rods fixed into the wall behind, but more often from some means of hanging spanning between riddel-posts: there were normally four of the last, polygonal on plan, coloured and gilded, and crowned by angels, often supporting candelabra. Arrangements of riddels behind and around altars seem to have been not uncommon in England towards the end of the Gothic period, in the decades immediately before the iconoclasm of C16, and were revived in the early C20 during the late flowering of the Gothic Revival, notably by Comper and Temple Moore.
Comper (1893, 1897, 1933, 1950);
Dearmer (1911, 1931);
I am glad to see the Lesage book on Amazon.com for under 5 dollars these days. It is actually volume 114 of The Twentieth Century Encyclopedia of Catholicism, section 10 under The Worship of the Church and is translated from the French, published by Hawthorn Books, NY. 1960. This was one of the first books I found when beginning the study of vestments and church furnishings, and is a very useful little volume of 152 pages. Topics included cover information on thuribles, altars, sacred vessels, candlesticks, the font, church bells, vestments and much more. Although some of the material covered applies to Roman Catholic usage, the book is well worth having for the history behind many of the vestments and vessels also used in the Episcopal church. The only negative about this publication may be that there are no diagrams or photographs.
A few years ago I happened upon a great series of little books about decorative arts in the Church, textiles and church architecture which was printed by A.R. Mowbray and Co. of London in a series spanning the first decade of the 1900’s. “The authors will write for the average intelligent person who has not had the time to study all these matters, and they will therefore avoid technicalities, while endeavoring at the same time to present the facts with a fidelity which will not, it is hoped, be unacceptable to the specialist.”- as the Editor’s note proclaims at the beginning of each slim volume.
I am not certain exactly how many volumes there are in the series as I possess only four to date, but here is one of the later editions with a list. You will note the estimable Rev. Percy Dearmer, author of The Ornaments of the Ministers (a must-have history of vestments for sacristies) and The Parson’s Handbook, has forewords and contributions in many of these little books. For everything about The Rev. Percy Dearmer visit this Project Canterbury link http://anglicanhistory.org/dearmer/index.html You may read the entire Parson’s Handbook (full of great information) free at
Ornaments of the Ministers with all of its amazing vintage vestment photographs can be copied and viewed using several formats here http://www.archive.org/details/MN40293ucmf_4
If you know of any other volumes in this series, I would be delighted to know of them. My particular favorite is Church Embroidery by Alice Dryden which was published in 1911. The great period of Church embroidery was from the twelfth to the middle of the fourteenth century (opus anglicanum) and this little book offers many plates and photos of extant pieces of ecclesiastical embroidery of this period. Method and execution are also included with a particularly excellent chapter on couching and stitches.
These little books may be found on ebay, A Libris, Bibliofind, and other out of print online dealers in the 30-50 dollar range. I have had the most success in finding them in England. Well worth the investment!!
This week I am visiting my family in the little Eastern Shore town of Vienna, Md. The Episcopal church there, Saint Paul’s parish, (Diocese of Easton) is celebrating its 300th anniversary. A new guild hall was finished and dedicated last year. More photos on Sunday morning . To visit St. Paul’s parish website, click on this link http://stpaulsviennamd.org/
The Diocese of Easton occupies more than one-third of the geographical territory of Maryland. Originally an isolated section of the Diocese of Maryland, it became its own diocese in 1868. It shares the Delmarva Peninsula with the entire state of Delaware and a small part of Virginia. Easton, the see city, is located centrally in Talbot County. The Diocese is comprised of about 9,750 members and 70 clergy in 39 worshipping communities.