On February 10, the season of Lent will begin. As we are reminded every year, Lent is a penitential season. A time for us to say sorry for those things we regret. It is also a time of preparation which we should use to get ready to celebrate Christ’s resurrection at Easter. Given the large number of baptisms which happen during the Easter season, I thought it might be a good idea to discuss an often forgotten fixture in church, the baptismal font.
The baptismal font is a stone, metal, or wooden basin, usually ornamented, for holding the water used in the sacrament of baptism. They vary widely in shape and size.
Because baptism is the gateway into the Christian life, baptismal fonts were traditionally placed close to the entrance of the church. At times, these fonts were placed in an ancillary building outside of the church, known as the baptistery.
Whether found inside of the church or in the baptistery chapel, most fonts were built octagonal in shape. This is because the number eight had sacred associations. The Jewish people considered the Sabbath, the seventh day of the week to be holy. The day after the Sabbath, Easter Sunday, the day when Jesus rose form the dead was considered to be the eighth day. It was day which suggested a superabundance of holiness. And because of the large amount of baptisms which occur during Easter, the octagonal font was felt to be the perfect symbol for the occasion. In addition to the connection with Easter falling on the eighth day, the early Christians believed that salvation through baptism had been prefigured by Noah’s ark, in which eight people were saved.