Restoration of the St. Peter’s Aumbry

The Reverend Jacob E. Pierce,

This Sunday, our diocesan bishop, the Right Reverend Sam Rodman, will visit St. Peter’s to baptize, confirm, receive, and reaffirm new Episcopalians. During his visit he will also bless the new aumbry. “But what is an aumbry,” you might ask? 

An aumbry is a cabinet used to house holy oil for baptism and the sick, and also a place to house blessed bread and wine, called “reserved sacrament.” Since the early days of the Church, reserved sacrament has been used to offer Holy Communion for those who are unable to join the community in public worship due to illness or infirmity. This sacrament has been set apart in a special place, accompanied by a candle to remind us of Christ’s presence in the sacrament and within our hearts. Episcopal congregations throughout the country reserve the sacrament in an aumbry near the altar, unlike many Roman Catholic congregations who often reserve the sacrament in a tabernacle in a side chapel.

Before the 1950s St. Peter’s aumbry was incorporated into the chancel wainscotting beside the altar, as old photographs can confirm. During a major renovation, the wainscotting was removed along with the stained glass windows behind the altar and the historic aumbry was discarded. In the succeeding decades a new aumbry was purchased and placed in the chapel. You may have noticed the small wooden box with a lighted candle above the columbarium. 

Earlier this year we expanded our columbarium to create new niches in the chapel. The expansion resulted in displacing the aumbry, which was temporarily moved to the opposite side of the chapel, blocking access for officiants at Morning and Evening Prayer, the altar guild, and also obstructing the view of the stained glass window. 

With the permission of the vestry, an advisory committee and I have worked to commission the building of a new aumbry and restore its location in the chancel. Local artist Jacob Wolfe’s beautiful design will be installed on the wall just above the credence table, to the right of the altar. Mr. Wolfe has incorporated the artistry of the historic wainscotting and symbols of St. Peter’s, matching the wood of the furniture in the altar area. He also identified an aumbry lamp which closely resembles the brass of the historic candlesticks. The result is a beautiful addition to our worship space, and one that appears as if it has always been there, much like the 2010 addition of the beautiful C. B. Fisk pipe organ situated under the rose window. 

The new aumbry was made possible through a special anonymous gift and the use of columbarium funds which were not needed in the recent expansion. Our annual budget, which focuses on our priorities for programming, social justice, outreach, youth and children’s formation, music, staff salaries, and pastoral care, doesn’t have the capacity to fund special projects, so we often depend on designated gifts around specific initiatives. One such initiative is a forthcoming renovation and enhancement of the Parish House Lobby, made possible through a designated gift. Throughout St. Peter’s history generous donors have made many special initiatives possible, and I am grateful to this donor and the countless others who enrich our common life.  

The Reverend Jacob E. Pierce, Priest-in-Charge