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Source Exercise 3: The Medieval Universe 5

Angels were popularly supposed to be the messengers and servants of God, omnipresent on earth thought seldom seen. The angels here appear to be supporting the font, which would fit in with the idea of their subservience to the requirements of God. The heraldic shields, which were often originally brightly painted, would usually display the coats of arms of prominent local families. Much of the fabric of parish churches was often paid for by local lordly families and they would expect, and often require, that their coats of arms be displayed prominently. Fonts were often placed at the west end of the church, the opposite end from the altar, or else, as here, near the door. On a practical level this meant that a baptism could be celebrated without having to use the main altar and choir stalls; more symbolically, its proximity to the entrance to the church symbolises the child’s entry into the Christian community. Exactly what the woodwoses are doing on a font is not easy to establish; images are intrinsically more ambiguous than written texts. A possible symbolism is that they reflect the nature of an infant before baptism (wild, untamed, tainted by sin, outside the civilized community of believers); this nature would then be washed away by the baptismal water; this might also explain why the wild men are positioned at the bottom, next to the floor; the higher part of the structure, supported by God’s angels, is where salvation is to be found.

Finally, take the two sources together and look at the following statements. For each statement decide to what extent it is supported by the evidence of these extracts. It may be shown to be true; shown to be probably true; shown to be possibly true; shown to be untrue; or not shown (which does not necessarily mean it is not true, merely that no evidence for it has been shown here).

A. Medieval people believed themselves to be surrounded by evil spirits.

  • Definitely true;
  • Probably true;
  • Possibly true;
  • Definitely untrue;
  • Not shown by the evidence.

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