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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

History Where You Least Expect It

Often, we're unaware of meaningful aspects of history that hide in plain sight.  But then, we tend to overlook things we don't immediately recognize as important, such as this baptismal font in St. Laurence Church in Falmer, England.  Let's face it: after my visit last year to St. Mary's Church in Thirsk, it's doubtful any baptismal font can ever impress me again!

Nevertheless, this booklet, which the church provided for a small donation, no doubt represents a fair amount of research into the history of this little church.  The Domesday Book, a survey of England and Wales completed in 1086, mentions the church in Falmer.  I'm not sure how much the building was worth back then, but by the year 1334, the village church was valued at the incredible sum of one pound!  Still, nothing lasts forever, not even buildings worth a single English pound coin, so in 1815 the building was taken down, and work started on the old foundation.  Lord Pelham, the present Earl of Chichester, laid the foundation stone for the new building in May of that year.

And why is Lord Pelham important, you ask?  Well, he's just one of many in a long family line.  One of his predecessors fought in the Battle of Poitiers in 1356.  This was one of three important English victories during the Hundred Years War, and resulted in the capture of John II of France.  In recognition of his service, Sir John Pelham was given the buckle of the king's sword belt.  

So what about the baptismal font, you ask?  Well, many places in the English county of Sussex proudly display the symbol of the buckle, in recognition of how the Earls of Chichester have overseen their lands, homes, and communities throughout history.  They remind us that as God oversees the spiritual realm, we must care for each other.  

So the carving on this baptismal font is not mere decoration, but a ring of Pelham Buckles that recognized the Earl's ongoing protection and support to the village of Falmer throughout the centuries.  It surrounds the bowl in which a child is baptized to initiate its spiritual life, and holds the water which is sprinkled upon the congregation at special services throughout the worshipper's life.  It represents the interlinked nature of life: the merger of the sacred and the secular, the spiritual and the physical, religion and politics, and yes, even history and the present.

And there you have it, history where you least expect it.  I'm grateful to the Reverend Canon Andrew N. Robinson, who wrote this little booklet. For the stories he shares highlight important aspects of history, and remind me of a pleasant worship service, in a quiet English village, on a fun little adventure during my stay in Brighton.  

Dragon Dave

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