Early Christian Font Notes for Museum Display

Early Christian Font Notes for Museum Display/Interpretation
The stone font was found locally in Old Kilpatrick at Gavinburn Library, its importance
and original function only having been recently discovered. The artefact is believed to be
the font that once resided at the entrance of Old Kilpatrick Parish Church: “In entering
the old church [Old Kilpatrick Parish Church], one ascended two or three steps, where, in
front, appeared a stone font which had been used in pre-Reformation times”1.
The age of the font remains unknown, though its presence in the Old Kilpatrick Parish
Church suggests it could be 12th century in origin. The original Old Kilpatrick Church, with
Norman period architecture, was a Celtic church built in 1163. This church was largely
associated with St. Patrick. It “came into the possession of the Roman Catholic Abbey of
Paisley around 1232 when Dugal, the last Celtic rector, gave way”2. This church remained
Roman Catholic until it became a Protestant Reformed Church in 1560. Lastly, in 1812, it
was replaced with the church we see today (see picture on right)3. The changes at Old
Kilpatrick Church illustrate the larger changes within Scotland relating to religious
change and the varying rounds of invaders and defenders in the region. Religion was a
central part of life in medieval Scotland, particularly as power struggles were played out
and groups fought for power and control.
Other medieval features of the Church included an altar dedicated to St. Ninian. A stone
effigy of a medieval knight (14th century) remains in the churchyard today4, illuminating
the region’s complex history and past which lingers on the landscape today, along with
the font. When and why the font ended up at Gavinburn library is a mystery, though it is
mentioned that the font survived the religious upheaval of the reformation 5 and may
have not been removed from the church at that time, as it did not depict specific imagery
or ideas (associated with Rome or the Pope) that the reformed church would have been
opposed to. The font’s simple, straight forward design may have saved its life.
Old Kilpatrick Church 1811
Old Kilpatrick Church today
Effigy of knight
The identification and function of the font also presents challenges. As the font was noted as resting
at the entrance of the church, and as its smaller size suggests, it is more likely a holy water stoup
than a baptismal font. However, these objects, much like the regions around them, adapted. The
font may have taken up different tasks – including as a holy water stoup or a baptismal font or even
a later non-religious use. This is supported by the presence of a side drain in the bottom of the font –
a feature not often found in holy water stoups. See image below and description below6.
Measurements: L: 50cm W: 55cm H: 40cm
Shape/physical characteristics: square with
rounded edges, side drain at bottom, “pecking”
tool marks, smooth lip – tool marks eroded by
wear, uneven underside – suggests was once
mounted on a base, pillars?
The font, as found at Galvinburn Library
Possible Functions: holy water stoup, baptisms?
through sprinkling, dipping or pouring as is too
small for immersion baptisms, fonts were mostly
replaced by basins following the reformation, did
is take on a non-religious task after? Water
trough for animals, etc.
General Information on Fonts: Baptismal fonts marked the establishment of Christianity in Scotland,
as baptisms were previously carried out in rivers and fountains. They remain as significant markers
of this period of change within Scottish history, as the Church transformed the social and political
landscape through powerful ties with the monarchy. Fonts varied in shape, size, decoration and even
material – from brass and wood to silver, though they were typically made of stone. The process of
creating fonts also varied from pecking to drilling. If the drain had a ceremonial/religious purpose, it
would have been used to empty the font of water after the allotted time it was allowed to be held
for. With baptismal fonts, “the water of the font became sacrosanct through the blessing
and punishment befell the negligent custodian if misuse occurred, but it was not to be
retained for baptisms beyond seven days”7.
Holy water stoups held holy water which was blessed once a week before mass. Upon entering a
church, worshippers would dip their fingers in to the holy water and make the sign of the cross to be
reminded of their baptismal vows. “To prepare the water, salt was exorcised, then blessed; the
water itself was then exorcised and blessed, the salt was sprinkled over it in the form of a
cross, and then a final blessing given to the mixture”8.
Summary of Notes from Font Scholar Miguel Torres:
Font scholar from University of Toronto, Miguel Torres, believes the font to be medieval and most
likely a holy water stoup based off of the small size of the font – in comparison to baptismal fonts.
The font has been entered, by Mr. Torres, into a large international catalogue of fonts. Less even
underside – likely had a base. Pecking tool marks. Side draining is unusual – seen more in troughs in
farms and gardens – a feature added later, change in function? Or when was a liturgical object?
Similar Fonts:
holy water stoup (medieval 1300-1500)
Font from BENVIE, FORFARSHIRE: “A much broken and defaced bowl of early Norman date, cylindrical in
shape, the bowl seems to have had angle shafts, and may possibly have had a central pillar”.
The orifice is circular, and has a bottom drain. The dimensions are—Feet. Inches.
Height of bowl as existing – 11 inches
Diameter of bowl – 2 ft 4 inches
Diameter of orifice – 1 ft 6 inches
Depth of orifice a s existing – 6 inches
Stone font from around 700
This font is similar to the fount found at old Kilpatrick and it has a similar shape and function to the
other fonts. The font comes from a slightly earlier time period than the one found at Galvinburn
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