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Monday, June 11, 2012

“Let Me Show You This!”

The wooden baptismal font cover at St. Mary's Church.

We visited a number of churches on our recent trip to England.  At a few we were welcomed warmly, but at most no one greeted us.  The latter’s okay: we were just glad that the churches were open.  I enjoy exploring these buildings made sacred by all the love and devotion that has been lavished upon them over the centuries.  Most possess so many points of interest that I could spend weeks covering each in my blog.  (Don’t worry: I won’t).  Nonetheless, it’s always pleasant to be greeted warmly when entering a church, and to learn why that person feels his or her church is special.

Ted’s joy in his church was irrepressible.  Shortly after we entered St. Mary’s Church in Thirsk, he noted my interest in this font cover, and headed over to tell me all about it.  As best as I can recall from my discussion with Ted, in the fifteenth century, when St. Mary’s was built, the usual practice involved filling the Baptismal Font every Easter.  This water was then consecrated by a priest, and remained in the stone font for the rest of the year.  In order to discourage insects, and prevent contamination and evaporation, elaborate font covers were used to protect and sustain the holy water so that it could be used for important church ceremonies such as baptism and anointing. 

Until life threw a few-too-many curve balls my way several years ago, I was an avid woodworker.  Usually I made simple little projects that I gave away at Christmas.  Once I worked on something substantial, an arts-and-crafts style chair.  I also attempted making a large, elaborate fretwork clock.  Sadly, both projects remain uncompleted.  Someday I’d like to get back to woodworking.  But until I can make room in my life for that hobby, I take joy in studying what other craftsmen have fashioned out of wood. 

This font cover may not be the most elaborate example of its kind, but it was the first I’ve ever seen up close.  (I hadn’t known such things existed before this trip).  Sadly, Ted showed me where this amazing piece of history had been cut apart and glued back together.  According to him, a rich family gave the church a series of stain glass windows, but then the wife complained that the tall font cover obscured her view of them.  So the font cover was taken down, hacked into three pieces, and the top and bottom sections fitted (nearly) seamlessly together to give the benefactress a better view of her stain glass windows. 

"I hope that cable is strong!"

Even at half its original height, the font cover is still an amazing creation, which the website for St. Mary’s Church describes as featuring “crocketted pinnacles.”  I know it held me transfixed for quite a while; I couldn’t help but smile as I circled it, studying it from every angle.  As these tall font covers could be quite heavy, they were usually attached to a pulley system.  Ted raised the cover via a recently replaced suspension cable.  After I had finished admiring its tall, pyramidal structure, he allowed me to pull it back down.  Using steady and gentle pressure, I lowered it back onto the stone font.  It went up and down easily, perfectly balanced on the long cable that disappeared into the ceiling.  I wish I had taken more photographs of it, as those I took fail to do it justice. 

Even standing at half it original height, it’s easy to understand how such tall, pyramidal font covers not only protected and preserved the holy water, but drew attention to the importance of baptism and anointing.  But, as beautiful as the wooden font cover in St. Mary’s is, I wouldn’t have understood what I was looking at, its significance, or its unique history, had Ted not leapt to showcase this unique item and tell me all about it.  Thank you Ted, for not only greeting me warmly, but also for sharing your enthusiasm for your church with me.

Forever in your debt,
Dragon Dave

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