Asides: aumbry, chrism, laver, accolade

Bottomley Abbeys cover Frank Bottomley’s The Explorer’s Guide to the Abbeys, Monasteries and Churches of Great Britain (Avenel Books, New York, 1984) was bought by me, according to an inscription on the flyleaf, in Windsor in 1987. It’s an alphabetical glossary of terms related to eccclesiastical and monastic terminology, especially architectural and liturgical. It’s fascinating, full of arcane stuff that appeals to the ex-medievalist in me, and has delightful, rather crude, line drawings. Weirdly the front cover has the author’s name spelt wrongly, as my picture shows.

I pulled it off the shelves this morning and found at random this entry, a term I’d forgotten (definition, etc., abridged from online OED):

aumbry, n.

Mid-13C aumbry, St Matthew's church, Langford, Oxon

Mid-13C aumbry, St Matthew’s church, Langford, Oxon

Etymology (abridged): < (i) Anglo-Norman almarie … (also OF, MF armaire, MF, French armoire) niche, cabinet, cupboard, closet, bookcase, library, chest (12th cent.), and its etymon (ii) classical Latin armārium cabinet, cupboard, bookcase, in post-classical Latin also recess in a wall (12th cent. in a British source), shelf (1440 in a British glossarial source) < arma gear, tools, arms + -ārium

Perhaps sometimes associated by folk etymology with ALMONRY n., as if a place for alms…

1. A container for storing books, a bookcase; (occas.) a room where books or other documents are stored, a library, an archive. Formerly also: †a repository or compendium of knowledge, such as a chronicle or commentary (obs.). Now hist. (chiefly in the form almery) and rare.
2. More generally.
a. A place for storing things, as a cupboard, locker, safe, press, etc.; a repository; (in later use) esp. a niche or recess in a wall used for storage. Formerly also (occas.): †a storeroom or storehouse (obs.).
Earliest recorded in attrib. use.

1886 R. L. STEVENSON Kidnapped iv. 37 ‘The blue phial,’ said he—‘in the aumry—the blue phial.’..I ran to the cupboard.
1972 B. MOORE Catholics ii. 77 The Abbot crossed the cloister to a bay where there was an ambry used for storing wood.

b. Christian Church. A cupboard, locker, or recess in the wall of a church or church building, to hold books, communion vessels, vestments, etc. This is the sense in which Bottomley uses it; he gives several examples of churches where they survive. They might have also been used for storage of ‘towels for laver’ (source of my surname? French ‘laverie’):

LAVER: monastic place for washing hands before meals ‘and for performing the morning toilet’. It would also be used in the ‘maundy’ – ritual footwashing (a symbol of fraternity and humility).


A chrismatory, German,1636, now in the V & A Museum, London

1555 W. WATERMAN tr. J. Boemus Fardle of Facions II. xii. 301 Upon the right hande of the highe aulter, that ther should be an almorie, either cutte into the walle, or framed vpon it: in the whiche thei would haue the Sacrament of the Lordes bodye, the holy oyle for the sicke, and the Chrismatorie, alwaie to be locked.

********   **********

Glass ambry for oil (chrism) of catechumens (candidates for baptism) and the sick

Glass ambry for oil (chrism) of catechumens (candidates for baptism) and the sick

Wikipedia points out (s.v. ‘ambry’) that it stored elements used in the Eucharistic ceremony; the pyx would also serve this purpose. In Catholic usage it is where the various holy oils are stored, including the splendidly named chrism (from the Greek for ‘anointing’ or ‘unction’). It us used in the ceremonies of Confirmation or chrismation, and the sacraments of baptism and Holy Orders; also for consecration of altars and churches. It’s made from olive oil infused with sweet perfume such as balsam.

These holy oils are stored in receptacles called chrismaria and they’re kept in…yes, an aumbry.

In the Confirmation ceremony, associated with the renewal of baptismal vows when a person has reached an age of sufficient maturity to choose to make the renewal, the bishop would accompany the final ‘pax tecum’ blessing with a touch on the cheek. The Roman Pontifical interpreted this as a ‘slap’ – a physical reminder to the recipient to be brave in the defence of the faith.

This is a concept related to the medieval chivalric accolade (from ‘col’, French for neck, Latin ‘collum’), originally a rite of passage ceremony to signify a young man’s achieving the formal status of mature knight, later coming to signify ‘embrace’ or ‘honour’. Today we’re most familiar with the gesture of ‘adoubement’ or dubbing the recipient with a tap on each shoulder with the flat blade of a sword (the English queen does this still when knighting people). There is some dispute about the earlier forms of this ritual; it seems a kiss or light blow (‘colée’) on the cheek or ear might have been originally used, and the dubbing with the sword replaced the gesture.