Monday, April 16, 2007

Seven Sacrament Fonts

The representation of all seven sacraments first appeared in Europe as an occasional subject in the 14th century, but by the middle of the 15th century, it had become widely popular.

In Seeable Signs: The Iconography of the Seven Sacraments, 1350-1544 by Ann Eljenholm Nichols, Nichols argues that before 1450 there existed an international iconography of the sacraments.

She further argues that after 1450, English work diverged radically from what pertained on the rest of the Continent of Europe. England developed a distinctive insular iconography. The explanation for that difference, she believes, is to be found in the peculiar religious climate created by the Lollard rejection of the sacramental system.

She also argues that the seven sacrament fonts and other seven sacrament furniture were erected to combat what was seen as the dangerous heresy of Lollardism and were specially placed in areas where Lollardism had been or was strong.

A number of seven sacrament fonts survived the iconoclasts of the Reformation in the 1540s and 1550s and thereafter.

Suffolk has thirteen of such fonts still in existence dating from the fifteenth century.

The fonts were octagonal. Seven of the faces depicted each of the sacraments. The eighth generally depicted the Mass, the Crucifixion or one other important scene.

Some of the fonts still retain swathes of colour. Again when looking at medieval objects, one often has to remind oneself that often they were brightly coloured rather than the pale white we often see today.

The following images are from St John the Baptist, Badingham, Suffolk. The font dates fom the 1480s.


Extreme Unction


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