Baptismal font

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A Romanesque baptismal font from Grotlingbo Church, Sweden, carved by Sigraf, a master stone sculptor who specialised in baptismal fonts. Grotlingbo kyrka dopfunt.jpg
A Romanesque baptismal font from Grötlingbo Church, Sweden, carved by Sigraf, a master stone sculptor who specialised in baptismal fonts.
A modern baptismal font in the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Houston, constructed in 2008 Sacred Heart Co-Cathedral Houston interior 2018e.jpg
A modern baptismal font in the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Houston, constructed in 2008

A baptismal font is an article of church furniture used for baptism.


Aspersion and affusion fonts

The fonts of many Christian denominations are for baptisms using a non-immersive method, such as aspersion (sprinkling) or affusion (pouring). The simplest of these fonts has a pedestal (about 1.5 metres tall) with a holder for a basin of water. The materials vary greatly consisting of carved and sculpted marble, wood, or metal. The shape can vary. Many are eight-sided as a reminder of the new creation and as a connection to the practice of circumcision, which traditionally occurs on the eighth day. Some are three-sided as a reminder of the Holy Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Detail of carved baptismal font cover (created 1930s), Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd (Rosemont, Pennsylvania) Baptismal Font Cover, Church of the Good Shepherd.jpg
Detail of carved baptismal font cover (created 1930s), Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd (Rosemont, Pennsylvania)

Fonts are often placed at or near the entrance to a church's nave to remind believers of their baptism as they enter the church to pray, since the rite of baptism served as their initiation into the Church. In many churches of the Middle Ages and Renaissance there was a special chapel or even a separate building for housing the baptismal fonts, called a baptistery. Both fonts and baptisteries were often octagonal (eight-sided), octagonal fonts becoming more common from the 13th century and the rule from the 14th century. [1] Saint Ambrose wrote that fonts and baptisteries were octagonal "because on the eighth day, [lower-alpha 1] by rising, Christ loosens the bondage of death and receives the dead from their graves". [3] [2] Saint Augustine similarly described the eighth day as "everlasting... hallowed by the resurrection of Christ". [3] [4]

The quantity of water is usually small (usually a litre or two). There are some fonts where water pumps, a natural spring, or gravity keeps the water moving to mimic the moving waters of a stream. This visual and audible image communicates a "living waters" aspect of baptism. Some church bodies use special holy water while others will use water straight out of the tap to fill the font. A special silver vessel called a ewer can be used to fill the font.

The mode of a baptism at a font is usually one of sprinkling, pouring, washing, or dipping in keeping with the Koine Greek verb βαπτιζω. Βαπτιζω can also mean "immerse", but most fonts are too small for that application. Some fonts are large enough to allow the immersion of infants, however.

Regional types

In certain regions of England, a common historic type of font design can be identified. In South East England the "Aylesbury font" can be seen in several churches in Buckinghamshire and the surrounding area. These fonts, which date from the late 12th Century around the years 1170 to 1190, are typically chalice-shaped, ornately carved around the rim with fluting below, and are considered fine examples of English Norman architecture. They are named after the font found in the Church of St Mary the Virgin, Aylesbury. [5] [6] Other identifiable types include the Early English "table-top" font, also found in Buckinghamshire; the "Bodmin font" in Cornwall, the "Seven Sacrament fonts" in East Anglia; and "Chalice fonts" in Herefordshire. [7]

Immersion fonts

The earliest baptismal fonts were designed for full immersion, and were often cross-shaped with steps (usually three, for the Trinity) leading down into them. Often such baptismal pools were located in a separate building, called a baptistery, however, this baptismal practice was then relocated to be administered near the entrance of the church, mostly nearby the main door to signify entrance to the Church. As infant baptism became more common, fonts became smaller. Denominations that believe only in baptism by full immersion tend to use the term "baptismal font" to refer to immersion tanks dedicated for that purpose, however in the Roman Catholic tradition a baptismal font differs from an immersion.

Full-immersion baptisms may take place in a man-made tank or pool, or a natural body of water such as a river or lake. The entire body is fully immersed, dunked, submerged or otherwise placed completely under the water. This practice symbolizes the death of the old nature, as found in Romans 6:3–4.

In the Eastern Orthodox Church, baptism is always by full triple immersion, even in the case of infant baptism (aspersion or pouring is permitted only in extremis ). For this reason, Eastern baptismal fonts tend to be larger than Western, and are often shaped like a large chalice (significant since the Orthodox administer Holy Communion to infants after baptism), and are normally fashioned out of metal rather than stone or wood. During the baptismal service, three candles will be lit on or around the baptismal font, in honor of the Holy Trinity. In many Orthodox churches, a very special kind of holy water, called "Theophany Water", is consecrated on the Feast of Theophany (Epiphany). The consecration (literally, "Great Blessing") is performed twice: the first time on the eve of the feast, in a baptismal font; the second, on the day of the feast, in a natural body of water.

In the Roman Catholic Church, especially after its Second Vatican Council (1962–1965), greater attention is being given to the form of the baptismal font. Currently, the Roman Catholic Church encourages baptismal fonts that are suitable for the full immersion of an infant or child, and for at least the pouring of water over the whole body of an adult. The font should be located in a space that is visibly and physically accessible, and should preferably make provision for flowing water.

Baptisms of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are usually done in a simple font located in a local meetinghouse, although they can be performed in any body of water in which the person may be completely immersed. In Latter-day Saint temples, where proxy baptisms for the dead are performed, the fonts rest on the sculptures of twelve oxen representing the twelve tribes of Israel, following the pattern of the Molten Sea in the Temple of Solomon (see 2 Chronicles 4:2-5).


Aspersion and affusion fonts

Immersion fonts

See also

Related Research Articles

Baptism Christian rite of admission and adoption, almost invariably with the use of water

Baptism is a Christian rite of admission and adoption, almost invariably with the use of water, into Christianity. It may be performed by sprinkling or pouring water on the head, or by immersing in water either partially or completely. The synoptic gospels recount that John the Baptist baptised Jesus. Baptism is considered a sacrament in most churches, and as an ordinance in others. Baptism according to the Trinitarian formula, which is done in most mainstream Christian denominations, is seen as being a basis for Christian ecumenism, the concept of unity amongst Christians. Baptism is also called christening, although some reserve the word "christening" for the baptism of infants. It has also given its name to the Baptist churches and denominations.

Infant baptism Christian baptism of infants or young children

Infant baptism is the practice of baptising infants or young children. In theological discussions, the practice is sometimes referred to as paedobaptism, or pedobaptism, from the Greek pais meaning "child". This can be contrasted with what is called "believer's baptism", which is the religious practice of baptising only individuals who personally confess faith in Jesus, therefore excluding underage children. Opposition to infant baptism is termed catabaptism. Infant baptism is also called christening by some faith traditions.

Ablution in Christianity

Ablution, in religion, is a prescribed washing of part or all of the body or possessions, such as clothing or ceremonial objects, with the intent of purification or dedication. In Christianity, both baptism and footwashing are forms of ablution. Prior to praying the canonical hours at seven fixed prayer times, Oriental Orthodox Christians wash their hands and face. In liturgical churches, ablution can refer to purifying fingers or vessels related to the Eucharist. In the New Testament, washing also occurs in reference to rites of Judaism part of the action of a healing by Jesus, the preparation of a body for burial, the washing of nets by fishermen, a person's personal washing of the face to appear in public, the cleansing of an injured person's wounds, Pontius Pilate's washing of his hands as a symbolic claim of innocence and foot washing, now partly a symbolic rite within the Church. According to the Gospel of Matthew, Pontius Pilate declared himself innocent of the blood of Jesus by washing his hands. This act of Pilate may not, however, have been borrowed from the custom of the Jews. The same practice was common among the Greeks and Romans.

Holy water

Holy water is water that has been blessed by a member of the clergy or a religious figure. The use for cleansing prior to a baptism and spiritual cleansing is common in several religions, from Christianity to Sikhism. The use of holy water as a sacramental for protection against evil is common among Lutherans, Anglicans, Roman Catholics, and Eastern Christians.


In Christian architecture the baptistery or baptistry is the separate centrally planned structure surrounding the baptismal font. The baptistery may be incorporated within the body of a church or cathedral, and provided with an altar as a chapel. In the early Church, the catechumens were instructed and the sacrament of baptism was administered in the baptistery.

Fountain of Life

The Fountain of Life, or in its earlier form the Fountain of Living Waters, is a Christian iconography symbol associated with baptism and/or eucharist, first appearing in the 5th century in illuminated manuscripts and later in other art forms such as panel paintings.


Asperges is a name given to the rite of sprinkling a congregation with holy water. The name comes from the first word in the 9th verse of Psalm 51 in the Latin translation which is sung during the traditional form of the rite except during Eastertide. The 51st Psalm is also one of the antiphons that may be sung in the rite under the Mass of Paul VI.

Aspersion, in a religious context, is the act of sprinkling with water, especially holy water. Aspersion is a method used in baptism as an alternative to immersion or affusion. The word is formed of the Latin aspergere, 'to sprinkle', of ad, 'to', and spargo, 'I scatter'.


Affusion is a method of baptism where water is poured on the head of the person being baptized. The word "affusion" comes from the Latin affusio, meaning "to pour on". Affusion is one of four methods of baptism used by Christians, which also include total submersion baptism, partial immersion baptism, and aspersion or sprinkling.

Conversion to Christianity Process of religious conversion in which a previously non-Christian person converts to Christianity

Conversion to Christianity is the religious conversion of a previously non-Christian person to Christianity. Different sects of Christianity may perform various different kinds of rituals or ceremonies on a convert in order to initiate them into a community of believers. The most commonly accepted ritual of conversion in Christianity is through baptism, but this is not universally accepted among Christian denominations. A period of instruction and study almost always ensues before a person is formally converted into Christianity, but the length of this period varies, sometimes as short as a few weeks and possibly less, and other times, up to as long as a year or possibly more.

Baptismal clothing is apparel worn by Christian proselytes during the ceremony of baptism. White clothes are generally worn because the person being baptized is "fresh like the driven manna".

Baptistère Saint-Jean

The Baptistère Saint-Jean is a Roman Catholic church in Poitiers, France. It is reputed to be the oldest existing Christian building in the West and one of the most prominent examples of Merovingian architecture.

Baptism is a rite of admission into the Christian church.

In the Latter Day Saint movement, baptism is recognized as the first of several ordinances (rituals) of the gospel.

Holy water in Eastern Christianity

Among Eastern Orthodox and Eastern-Rite Catholic Christians, holy water is used frequently in rites of blessing and exorcism, and the water for baptism is always sanctified with a special blessing.

Water and religion

Water is considered a purifier in most religions.

Immersion baptism Method of baptism

Immersion baptism is a method of baptism that is distinguished from baptism by affusion (pouring) and by aspersion (sprinkling), sometimes without specifying whether the immersion is total or partial, but very commonly with the indication that the person baptized is immersed completely. The term is also, though less commonly, applied exclusively to modes of baptism that involve only partial immersion.

Baptism has been part of Christianity from the start, as shown by the many mentions in the Acts of the Apostles and the Pauline epistles.

History of baptism

John the Baptist, who is considered a forerunner to Christianity, used baptism as the central sacrament of his messianic movement. Christians consider Jesus to have instituted the sacrament of baptism. The earliest Christian baptisms were probably normally by immersion, though other modes, such as pouring, were used. By the third and fourth centuries, baptism involved catechetical instruction as well as chrismation, exorcisms, laying on of hands, and recitation of a creed. In the West, affusion became the normal mode of baptism between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries, though immersion was still practiced into the sixteenth. In the sixteenth century, Martin Luther retained baptism as a sacrament, but Swiss reformer Huldrych Zwingli considered baptism and the Lord's supper to be symbolic. Anabaptists denied the validity of infant baptism, which was the normal practice when their movement started and practiced believer's baptism instead. Several groups related to Anabaptism, notably the Baptists and Dunkards, soon practiced baptism by immersion as following the Biblical example.

Ascoli Piceno Baptistery Roman Catholic church in Ascoli Piceno, Italy

The Ascoli Piceno Baptistery, also known as the baptistery of Saint John, is a religious building found on the eastern end of the piazza Arringo at the center of Ascoli Piceno and sitting next to and just north of the cathedral dedicated to St. Emygdius, the city's patron saint.



  1. The sixth day of Holy Week was Good Friday; the following Sunday (of the resurrection) was thus the eighth day. [2]


  1. Macalister, Robert Alexander Stewart (1911). "Font"  . In Chisholm, Hugh (ed.). Encyclopædia Britannica . 10 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 605.
  2. Huyser-Konig, Joan. "Theological Reasons for Baptistry Shapes". Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Retrieved 30 October 2015.
  3. 1 2 Kuehn, Regina (1992). A Place for Baptism. Liturgy Training Publications. pp. 53–60. ISBN   978-0-929650-00-5.
  4. Augustine of Hippo (426). The City of God  . p. Book 22, Chapter 30 via Wikisource.
  5. Pevsner, Nikolaus; Williamson, Elizabeth; Brandwood, Geoffrey K. (1994). Buckinghamshire. Yale University Press. p. 40. ISBN   978-0-300-09584-5 . Retrieved 31 May 2020.
  6. Batty, Robert Eaton (1848). Some particulars connected with the history of baptismal fonts. p. 33. Retrieved 31 May 2020.
  7. Harris, Brian L. (2006). Harris's Guide to Churches and Cathedrals: Discovering the Unique and Unusual in Over 500 Churches and Cathedrals. Ebury. p. 205. ISBN   978-0-09-191251-2 . Retrieved 31 May 2020.

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