The sacrist, one of the major obedientiaries,
was responsible for the general care of the church. He was assisted
by a deputy and perhaps other helpers, depending on the size of
the community and the scale of his duties. His office, the sacristy,
was accessed by a door leading from the presbytery. Much of the
sacrist’s work was connected with the church. He opened and
closed the doors to the church, ensured that there were sufficient
candles and oil, and that there were ashes and palms when necessary.
It was his duty to prepare the abbot’s staff and stole when
necessary, and to make the hosts for the celebration of Mass. Whenever
a novice made his profession as a monk and ceremoniously received
the tonsure, it was the sacrist’s job to burn the hair clippings.
How did the monks keep the
liturgical vestments so clean and smooth?
After the service the sacrist rinsed the corporals, veils, towels and altar
cloths in separate bowls and then passed the altar cloth to the cellarer
to be washed with the rest of the linens. He then washed the others in
warm lye-water and dried them; the sacrist then wore albs and smoothed
the corporals with a smoothing stone, folded them in three and carefully
put them away until next time.
[Ecclesiastica Officia 114: 22-24]
sacrist’s duties extended beyond the church. He was responsible
for the lights in the dormitory and cloister, and sounded the bell
for all offices and meals. If the sacrist was too early or too
late sounding the bell, he had to make amends for this the following
day at chapter. The late thirteenth-century account book of Beaulieu
Abbey, in Hampshire, offers an interesting insight to the extent
of the sacrist’s duties at this time. It reveals that the
sacrist of Beaulieu handled sixty-eight gallons of oil which were
used in the church, infirmary and dormitory; he received almost
all the abbey’s wax from the beehives, additional wax to
make candles and wine for the celebration of Mass.
He also received incense and a substantial amount of charcoal to
burn this, although
it may also have been used for heating - to take the chill off
the church in winter.(1) Miscellaneous duties pertaining to the
sacrist included the purchase of gold and silver leaf, and payments
the painter for work to the High Altar.
The sacrist was also responsible for sweeping out the church before
feasts when a sermon was given.