Baptismal Fonts, Old and New

I’ve posted a piece over at TeamRCIA that might be of interest to readers of Pray Tell. It’s about two (very different) baptismal fonts, both in Speyer Cathedral, in Germany.

Now you are probably wondering: Two? To solve the mystery, you can read the post (and see the pictures) here.

[Hint: I almost entitled this post “Fonts ancient and modern” but out of deference to S. Anita Sauffer’s classic monograph (On Baptismal Fonts: Ancient and Modern, Alcuin/GROW Liturgical Study 29-30, Grove Books Ltd., 1994) I changed my title to “Old and New.”]


  1. Rita, can you imagine the many scenes that have taken place at that ancient font?

    Below is a description of St. Augustine’s baptism, much earlier of course in 387, but I can imagine the same thing took place there numerous times.

    Augustine described the unforgettable scene:
    They moved amidst a sea of candle flames, and were swept along by the congregational singing of the psalms.
    “And so we were baptised …. What tears I shed in your hymns and canticles! How deeply was I moved by the voices of your sweet singing Church. Those voices flowed into my ears and the truth was distilled into my heart, which overflowed with my passionate devotion. Tears ran from my eyes and happy I was in those tears.” (Confessions 9, 193-194)

  2. Thanks, Dale, for that quote from Augustine. Very moving indeed. It also reminds me of Ambrose’s consoling words to Monica: “Can a child of such tears be lost?” Like mother, like son. They both cried freely, evidently!

    There’s now a podcast up at TeamRCIA that discusses the font described in the post, for anyone who is interested. The podcast begins with replies to some different questions generated by listeners in a previous session, but about 1/3 way through, the font discussion begins.

  3. Stories like this remind me why parishes need liturgists: to help both the staff and people know & understand what the liturgy calls for and why. The Rite calls for “immersion” of both infant and adults and fonts need to be designed for this. Whether a church is traditional or contemporary or as old as 1000AD, there is no reason that a proper, dignified baptismal space can not be constructed. In my experience, once you go with immersion, there is no going back. The experience and symbolism is very powerful. after Vatican II, we moved the altars forward. We need to focus on our baptismal space as well.

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