“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!
Lucille McKey, IIDA “
Thanks for your email Lucille. Yes, finding information about how to design a working sacristy is nearly impossible. There are no sources. Of course common sense is always an ingredient and discussions with altar guild workers who have many years’ experience with the requirements can be beneficial. Altar Guild workers are frankly brilliant at making do and often have to be very innovative in making things work in unbelievably cramped and challenging spaces.
To be able to get it right from the beginning is wonderful, so put a lot of thought into the layout. Hire professionals and keep in mind any historic spaces or architectural elements in your church which should be conserved as you are renovating for the sacristy. Work with the style and architecture of your edifice. Here is my list of absolute basics:
1. Will there be a separate priest vesting sacristy or will one space have to serve for everything? Christ Church in Westerly is very lucky to have a small vesting sacristy for clergy and across the chancel, a large, airy working sacristy for the guild. If you can manage this, life will be simpler. Note the height of this vesting space in the photo below. This is convenient and one does not have to bend over a low counter top.
2. When measuring for horizontal storage, take the WIDEST chasuble you have in inventory, lay it flat and measure across and add on a little for maneuvering. This should be the width of your horizontal flat storage drawer. There ought to be at least FIVE horizontal chasuble drawers labelled top to bottom: green, white, purple, red, Lenten array (or other color such as blue, black, floral, unbleached linen Lenten array, etc.) It is helpful to store the whole Low Mass set together. In this photo below from St. Stephen’s House, Oxford, England, note the eucharistic set stored in horizontal fashion and a clean white cotton liner all ready to cover up the set- excellent! Better still if the fiddleback chasuble could lie flat.
3. You will need a deep pull out drawer for small eucharistic linens. I like to line these with damask fabric so the drawer looks beautiful when the linens are laid out inside.
4. Two drawers, deep ones, will be needed for rolled FAIR linens. Measure your LONGEST fair linen on a roller. That will be the length measurement for the drawer plus a few extra inches.
5. Measure your longest small linen, such as credence shelf or table linen. These should also be stored rolled and kept separate from the fair altar linens as they tend to get mixed up if stored with the fair linens. A label with the type of linen marked IN PENCIL lightly is a help.
6. Measure any pulpit fall or lectern hanging or Bible markers at the widest part and their length to get drawer dimensions. These can be stored flat if you do not store them with your frontals. It is easier to store them separately.
7. You will need a double sink, stainless steel is best. Lining it with a plastic dishpan will save dings and cracks in glass cruets from happening. Another small sink which drains into the ground is desirable ( a piscina) for pouring down consecrated wine and wafer residue when washing vessels.
8. You will need frontal storage for heavy paraments. Flat storage or vertical hanging storage are both good options. Measure the widest frontal from side to side to obtain the width and add on a few inches extra for good measure. If you opt for vertical hanging storage, then you will need suspension dowels to drape the frontals over. They should be sanded very smooth and sealed with polyurethane to prevent snagging. Always put the lining next to the dowel. You may wish to have a separate space to hang your large funeral pall apart from the frontals. Be sure the height of the cabinet unit allows for the frontal to hang freely down without touching the bottom of the cabinet. A top opening can make getting frontals in and out tricky, a front opening of two doors swinging OUT from the center is preferable.
9. Additional small drawers near the sink are great for storage of cloths, cleaning products, and small items. An ironing board hanger which has the built-in iron holder is a godsend and can be mounted inside a closet.
10. A cork bulletin board is a must for posting rotas and announcements and a calendar.
11. A closet deep enough to hang chasubles with plenty of air space between vestments is a must-have if you opt for vertical hanging storage instead. A ventilation panel in the lower door is also helpful for air circulation, a light inside the closet is useful. Use hangers which have the curved shoulders, usually made of resin, – never unpadded wire hangers! You may wish to have a separate closet for albs and surplices if space is available.
12. Chalice safe: Measure the height of the tallest metal vessel and add extra inches for easy access. The chalice safe should have a LOCK. There should be ample room to set up a communion chalice with pall, and a breadbox or ciborium at the least. Some churches which have daily communion actually have 7 small safes labelled for daily Mass, Mon- Sun! Imagine that! Below is San Giovanni Rotundo showing the 7 chalice safes with communion set up in each. Wow!
13. Vessel storage cabinet for extra eucharistic vessels, wafers and wine, etc. Always store wine away from any heat source and light.
14. A roomy storage cabinet for broom, vacuum, dustpan, cleaning items which are tall. Hang your ironing board and iron inside.
15. Floral arranging supply storage: room for Oasis, vases, pruners, liners, holiday special mechanics for floral display.
16. Wedding and baptism supply storage for kneelers, pew markers, ewer, candleholder, aisle runner, any special equipment used for occasional special services and sacraments.
17. A hard-wearing countertop surface which resists stains and is easy to sponge off.
18. A bookshelf for reference books is a plus.
19. Don’t neglect good lighting, and a light wall paint. I do have a horror,however, of painting over beautiful wood if it is of architectural or historical significance just to make a sacristy “brighter”. Improve the lighting instead.
20. A specified place for plastic waste bins which should be emptied frequently of rotting floral material.
21. Drying rack for wet cloths. These usually are hung near or over the sink and fan out from the wall about 10 inches with about 4-5 separate hanging bars. This attaches on the wall.
22. The door to the sacristy should have a sturdy lock and either each member should have a key, or else the key should be hidden in a place known to the altar guild and clergy.
23. A carpet may be cushy to stand on and may look great but it is not practical. Wall to wall carpet holds dustmites and mold spores like mad. A tile or wooden floor is easily cleaned. A rubber work mat is great at the sink or in any area where one must stand in one spot for a length of time. Save the fancy oriental carpet for the priest’s vesting sacristy. That space can be made very beautiful with a prie-dieu, framed artwork, and a very handsome horizontal chasuble “press”. I particularly like to have framed vesting prayers, a shelf for books and notes, a clock, a beautiful religious picture or icon and cross, a damask vestment pad on which to lay out vestments, a small chair, a spot to have tissues, a pitcher of cold water and paper cups and a jar of cough drops, a calendar, notepaper and pencils,and a few comforts. Just look at the floor at Saint Paul the Apostle in the Diocese of Joliet! Clean enough to eat off of and easy care.
24. A safe is recommended if very valuable or historic vessels are in the inventory.
I know there may be more ideas out there. Please send in comments and photos of your good ideas in your sacristy. . If you are fortunate enough to be building a sacristy from scratch, you have a wonderful and rare opportunity to customize it to fit every need. Renovations later are expensive so there is every incentive to plan carefully first. Also check Craig’s List, Ebay and local classified ads, many churches which are being closed or are merging with another parish have cabinets and vestment presses, vessels safes and more fittings FOR SALE very reasonably-priced! In closing, gasp at this glorious sacristy in France at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Orleans. Once there were so many beautiful sacristies in America. Around the late 50′s, early 60′s so much beautiful wood, marble, and other quality materials were replaced and heaved out in the wish to “modernize”, to the deep regret of us now. Point to ponder.