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church architecture 4

THE Font is a primary sign and symbol in the worship space.

Just as baptism images dying with Christ, so the font images tomb.

Just as baptism images being cleansed, so the font images bath. You can stand up in the pool and have water poured over you.

Use copious water. Baptism in the Anglican church can be done by submersion (fully under the water), immersion (in water, with water poured over you), and pouring. There is no place for minimalist use of water – there is no place for sprinkling, or merely making the sign of the cross with water…

New fonts will always have the possibility of immersion as well as pouring.

Infants can be baptised by immersion and submersion, just as they are in Orthodoxy.

The water can be flowing. Traditional, plumbed fonts can use that piping to pump water (recycled). Such a font can have a slot cut near the top so the water runs into an immersion pond by it.

The place for the font speaks of the understanding of baptism in the community. Do we come via the font to the table? Font and table make the foci of the sacrament of initiation, with the Eucharist as the repeatable part of that sacrament…

Do we have the font within the worship space, in the entrance foyer,…?

Font is carved from massive blocks of granite to form the shape of a nautilus shell. The font accomodates the baptism of both infants and adults with an upper reservoir and lower pool for immersion. Water recirculates from the upper bowl and flows tow different ways into the pool–over a wide lip and gently down a sluice carved into the walls of the font. Source of quote

The font also reminds me of the koru pattern – strong New Zealand symbol of new life.

As we enter, and come past the font, we place our hand in its water and make the sign of the cross on our body reminding ourselves – I am baptised.

Just as baptism images being born again, so the font images womb.

Square, circular, octagonal, six-sided, and cross-shaped are amongst the shapes that all have a particular history and meaning. (eg. eight-sided, the eighth day, resurrection, eight on the ark…)

The Easter/Paschal candle stands by the font except during the Easter Season and at funerals when it has a central focus.

In order to prevent any accident – perspex can sit just below the surface of a baptismal pond. There may need to be a way of heating the water. There needs to be plumbing to earth.

Inherited bird-bath fonts, and pudding bowls inserted into stands can be re-used as… bird baths (with a plaque if you like), a sun dial, for flowers… [We would never dream, of course, of putting flowers in a font!]

Discussions about why our communities are not baptising sufficiently are long overdue.

This post is, hopefully, useful for a number of contexts. It is particularly offered as one in a series for reflection as we begin planning the building of a number of church buildings after the closing of dozens of church buildings because of the Canterbury earthquakes.

Can you add some ideas, responses, even further questions to help people’s reflections…

image sources 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

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16 thoughts on “church architecture 4”

    1. Thanks so much, Grandmère Mimi, for that link – EVERYONE PLEASE LOOK AT THE PHOTO THAT LINK GOES TO! It says it is for immersion – I am trying to visualise how that works – possibly steps up? Do you or anyone know? Blessings.

      1. I saw this font in July, but don’t recall seeing any steps. Perhaps a portable set of steps up to and into the font are brought in as required.

  1. Bosco,

    This is a marvelous post – thank you! (The bit about the pudding bowl in a stand particularly struck a chord; that perfectly describes the font we had at St. Ann’s Church when I grew up.) I’m curious though: what do you mean by “not baptising sufficiently?”

    1. Thanks for your encouragement, Matt. I was recently on holiday and visited an Anglican church building. Behind the door was a very intricately constructed wooden replica of an eight-sided font, all to hold a… pudding bowl!

      NZ seems to go out of its way to not keep statistics, but each diocese does. It is not difficult to project how many will call themselves Anglican or even Christian – even assuming most of those baptised stay church attenders. Some of our larger communities have shockingly low baptism figures. I have not been part of any diocesan discussions about our baptism figurers. I’ve been part of plenty about our financial figures!


  2. Bosco, these architecture posts are really good. Thank you. They are a good reminder that architecture, decoration, and arrangement of the church’s interior all have spiritual implications and messages. Last summer we had the opportunity to visit the tomb of St. John. The ruins of the church showed a key hole shaped font in the floor with steps at either end. The catechumen walked into the font – dying – and came up the steps at the other end into a new life. Very powerful imagery.

    Peace, Mike+

    1. I’m presuming, Mike, you mean the one in Ephesus (here and here)? For those who don’t know it (I’ve also been there), the images show you it is in the form of a cross. It is a favourite of mine. And those doing the baptising don’t get wet 🙂

      Thanks for the encouragement. Blessings.

  3. Hello Bosco, tallking to some friends about church architecture they mentioned some very interesting books by the former dean of Philadelphia Cathedral Richard Giles. Whilst I was researching the new altar at Lichfield Cathedral I was led to this blog which shows the reordering of Philadelphia Cathedral. I thought this may be of interest. http://revpatrickcomerford.blogspot.com/2011_10_03_archive.html

    Warm regards, Richard Brown

  4. Hi, Bosco. I thought you might like to know about some of the work that has been done in a new church in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, which has been built by an ecumenical monastic community, the “Community of Jesus” (I have some friends there, through Gregorian chant connections). They opted for a traditional basilican plan, complete with mosaics, Christus Pantocrator, etc., that blends both traditional Christian images and the flora and fauna of Cape Cod.

    They have an immersion font at the west end of the nave, and the connection between baptism and eucharist is emphasized by a mosaic “river” flowing up the middle aisle between the font and the altar (it includes little biblical “water” scenes, like Jonah’s ship caught in a storm). Pictures here: http://www.churchofthetransfiguration.org/ (for the font, go to “Nave”, where it’s the middle picture in the thumbnails at the bottom). The aisle is more visible in the “virtual tour” option.

    The place obviously cost a fortune…

  5. as a Catholic liturgist, I have studied and see many contempory fonts in a vairity of shapes and forms. the key to any new or renovated baptismal space is education of both clergy and people. Stick to what the rituals clearly states, not ‘opinions of liturgists” like me! I did exactly this at my last parish and not only did I get the new immersion pool donated by one person but once we bagan using it, the people went craxy with it. They will NEVER go back to the bowl. never. For churches with marble communion rails, you can remove the rail and use the marble for a new baptismal pool. Doing this provides the use of the old for a new function and it will look like its always been there!

    1. Thanks, Joseph. The re-using of the old material in a renewed context is a good principle, one that we may need to learn to implement in post-earthquake Christchurch. Blessings.

  6. juliettemintern

    Salisbury cathedral has become a favourite of mine since I have been studying Liturgical Studies at Sarum College – in the cathedral close. On a visit as part of the Christian Initiation module we had a lecture around the font. To answer your query – so far, it has not been used for total immersion and when I asked there were no plans for it to be used in that manner. Hope this helps!

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