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Source Exercise 3: The Medieval Universe 4

The photograph shows a fourteenth-century font, from the parish church at Framlingham in Suffolk. The large ornate cover for the font is a much later addition: these covers were often installed in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and winched up when the font was in use. The font is used in the sacrament (sacred rite) of baptism, also known as christening. The Church taught that all children are born with Original Sin, the sin originally committed by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, imprinted on their souls. This sin needed to be erased if the child were to have the possibility of going to Heaven and this was done by a symbolic washing in water, known as baptism. The water was contained in the font and poured over the child’s head. The ceremony was based on the practice described in the New Testament whereby John the Baptist bathed people in the River Jordan as a symbol of their rejection of sin and embarking on a new, purified life. Baptism also served as a ceremony of welcome by the church community to a new member. Baptism, or christening, is still an important rite of passage in Christian communities today.

D) The font is decorated with images associated with baptism and its base is adorned, in between the lions, with club-wielding 'woodwoses', 'wild men' of the woods. What significance do you think should be attached to:

  • The images of angels;
  • The heraldic shields;
  • The position of the font;
  • The woodwoses.

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