A Romanesque baptismal font from Grötlingbo Church, Sweden, carved by Sigraf, a master stone sculptor who specialised in baptismal fonts.
A modern baptismal font in the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Houston, constructed in 2008

A baptismal font is an ecclesiastical architectural element, which serves as a receptacle for baptismal water used for baptism, as a part of Christian initiation for both rites of infant and adult baptism.[1]

Aspersion and affusion fonts

The earliest western fonts are found in the Catacombs of Rome. The fonts of many western Christian denominations that practice infant baptism are designed for baptisms using a non-immersive method, such as aspersion (sprinkling) or affusion (pouring). The simplest of these fonts has a pedestal with a holder for a basin of water. The materials vary greatly consisting of carved and sculpted marble, wood, or metal in different shapes. Many fonts are in octagonal shape, as a reminder of the new creation and as a connection to the Old Testament practice of circumcision, which traditionally occurs on the eighth day.[2] Some fonts are three-sided as a reminder of the Holy Trinity to represent the unity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as three persons in one.

Detail of carved baptismal font cover (created 1930s), Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd (Rosemont, Pennsylvania)

Fonts are often placed at or near the entrance to a church's nave to remind believers of their baptism as they enter the church to pray, since the rite of baptism served as their initiation into the Church. In Lutheran churches, the baptismal font may be located in the chancel near the altar to serve as a testament to Lutheran sacramental theology.[3] In many churches of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, there was a special chapel or even a separate building for housing the baptismal fonts, called a baptistery. Both fonts and baptisteries were often octagonal (eight-sided), octagonal fonts becoming more common from the 13th century and the norm from the 14th century.[4] Saint Ambrose wrote that fonts and baptisteries were octagonal "because on the eighth day,[a] by rising, Christ loosens the bondage of death and receives the dead from their graves".[6][5] Saint Augustine similarly described the eighth day as "everlasting... hallowed by the resurrection of Christ".[6][7]

The quantity of water is usually small. There are some fonts where water pumps, a natural spring, or gravity keeps the water moving to mimic the moving waters of a stream. This visual and audible image communicates a "living waters" aspect of baptism. Some liturgical church bodies use consecrated holy water for the purpose of baptism, while others will use water straight out of the tap to fill the font.[8] A special silver vessel called a ewer can be used to fill the font. Most baptismal fonts have covers to prevent water from evaporating and to protect baptismal water against contamination.

The mode of a baptism at a font is usually one of sprinkling, pouring, washing, or dipping in keeping with the Koine Greek verb βαπτίζω. Βαπτίζω can also mean "immerse", but most fonts are too small for that application. Some fonts are large enough to allow the immersion of infants, however.

Regional types

In certain regions of England, a common historic type of font design can be identified. In South East England the "Aylesbury font" can be seen in several churches in Buckinghamshire and the surrounding area. These fonts, which date from the late 12th Century around the years 1170 to 1190, are typically chalice-shaped, ornately carved around the rim with fluting below, and are considered fine examples of English Norman architecture. They are named after the font found in the Church of St Mary the Virgin, Aylesbury.[9][10] Other identifiable types include the Early English "table-top" font, also found in Buckinghamshire; the "Bodmin font" in Cornwall, the "Seven Sacrament fonts" in East Anglia; and "Chalice fonts" in Herefordshire.[11]

In Northern Europe, baroque font covers in the shape of a floating angel which are hung vertically from the ceiling of the choir became fashionable in the Lutheran churches of Germany, Denmark and Sweden during the 17th and 18th centuries. During the baptism ceremony, they were lowered using a pulley which symbolized the angel bringing the baptismal water directly from heaven.

Floating baptismal angel of the font of the Angel Church, Hinterhermsdorf in Germany which gave its name to the church.


Immersion fonts

The earliest baptismal fonts were designed for full immersion, and were often cross-shaped, usually with three steps to represent Holy Trinity, leading down into the baptismal pool. Often such baptismal pools were located in a separate building, called a baptistery; however, this baptismal practice was then relocated to be administered near the entrance of the church, mostly nearby the main door to signify entrance to the Church. As infant baptism became more common, fonts became smaller. Denominations that believe only in baptism by full immersion tend to use the term "baptismal font" to refer to immersion tanks dedicated for that purpose; however, in the Roman Catholic tradition, a baptismal font differs from an immersion.

Full-immersion baptisms may take place in a man-made tank or pool, or a natural body of water such as a river or lake. The entire body is fully immersed, dunked, submerged or otherwise placed completely under the water. This practice symbolizes the death of the old nature, as found in Romans 6:3–4. In Hagia Sophia, the water was supplied to the baptismal tank from a water tower.[13] In the Eastern Orthodox Church, baptism is always by full triple immersion, even in the case of infant baptism (aspersion or pouring is permitted only in extremis). For this reason, Eastern baptismal fonts tend to be larger than their Western counterparts and they are usually portable. Eastern Orthodox fonts are often shaped like a large chalice (significant since the Orthodox administer Holy Communion to infants after baptism), and are normally fashioned out of metal rather than stone or wood. Symbolically, Orthodox baptismal fonts represent the womb of the Church, as well as the tomb of Christ, since the baptized individual is put into the tomb/womb and is brought out born into a new life in Christ.[14] During the baptismal service, three candles are lit on or around the baptismal font, in honour of the Holy Trinity. In many Orthodox churches, a special kind of holy water, called "Theophany Water", is consecrated on the Feast of Theophany (Epiphany). The consecration (literally, "Great Blessing") is performed twice: the first time on the eve of the feast, in a baptismal font; the second, on the day of the feast, in a natural body of water.

In the Roman Catholic Church, especially after its Second Vatican Council (1962–1965), greater attention is being given to the form of the baptismal font. Currently, the Roman Catholic Church encourages baptismal fonts that are suitable for the full immersion of an infant or child, and for at least the pouring of water over the whole body of an adult. The font should be located in a space that is visibly and physically accessible, and should preferably make provision for flowing water.

Baptisms of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are usually undertaken in a simple font located in a local meetinghouse, although they can be performed in any body of water in which the person may be completely immersed. In Latter-day Saint temples, where proxy baptisms for the dead are performed, the fonts rest on the sculptures of twelve oxen representing the twelve tribes of Israel, following the pattern of the Molten Sea in the Temple of Solomon (see 2 Chronicles 4:2-5).


Aspersion and affusion fonts

Immersion fonts

See also



  1. ^ The sixth day of Holy Week was Good Friday; the following Sunday (of the resurrection) was thus the eighth day.[5]


  1. ^ "New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia, Baptismal Font". Retrieved 6 October 2023.
  2. ^ "Church Fathers on infant baptism". Retrieved 7 October 2023.
  3. ^ "What Lutherans Teach about the Sacraments". Retrieved 7 October 2023.
  4. ^ Macalister, Robert Alexander Stewart (1911). "Font" . In Chisholm, Hugh (ed.). Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 10 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 605.
  5. ^ a b Huyser-Konig, Joan (12 May 2006). "Theological Reasons for Baptistry Shapes". Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Retrieved 30 October 2015.
  6. ^ a b Kuehn, Regina (1992). A Place for Baptism. Liturgy Training Publications. pp. 53–60. ISBN 978-0-929650-00-5.
  7. ^ Augustine of Hippo (426). The City of God . p. Book 22, Chapter 30 – via Wikisource.
  8. ^ "Liturgical Use of Water". Retrieved 7 October 2023.
  9. ^ Pevsner, Nikolaus; Williamson, Elizabeth; Brandwood, Geoffrey K. (1994). Buckinghamshire. Yale University Press. p. 40. ISBN 978-0-300-09584-5. Retrieved 31 May 2020.
  10. ^ Batty, Robert Eaton (1848). Some particulars connected with the history of baptismal fonts. p. 33. Retrieved 31 May 2020.
  11. ^ Harris, Brian L. (2006). Harris's Guide to Churches and Cathedrals: Discovering the Unique and Unusual in Over 500 Churches and Cathedrals. Ebury. p. 205. ISBN 978-0-09-191251-2. Retrieved 31 May 2020.
  12. ^ "Baptismal Angels in Nordic Lutheran countries". Retrieved 7 October 2023.
  13. ^ "Baptistry of St. Sophia of Constantinople". Retrieved 7 October 2023.
  14. ^ "The Orthodox Baptismal Font - The Divine Womb". Retrieved 6 October 2023.

Further reading