Ancient and Medieval Baptismal Fonts in Rome

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Lost knowledge recovered.

Transcript of Ancient and Medieval Baptismal Fonts in Rome

  • 2015

    Daniel Keeran, MA, MSW

    Ancient and Medieval Baptismal Fonts in Rome

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    Ancient and Medieval

    Baptismal Fonts in Rome

    Daniel Keeran, MA, MSW

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    List of Fonts

    Santa Cecilia San Clemente San Crisogono Santa Croce in Gerusalemme San Giovanni in Laterano San Lorenzo fuori di Muri (Damaso) San Lorenzo in Lucina San Marcello al Corso San Marco Santa Maria Maggiore Santa Maria in Trastevere Ostia Antica San Paolo fuori di Muri Saint Peters (Benedict XIII) Saint Peters (Probus) San Pietro in Vincoli San Ponziano (catacomb) Santa Pudenziano Santa Priscillia (catacomb) Santi Quattro Coronati San Stefano in via Latina Santa Susanna

    See also I battisteri paleocristiani di Roma: analisi

    architettonica e topografica by Giacomo Cirsone

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    Introduction

    The photographs were personally taken by the author with the exception of those used by permission as indicated. There is very little available to English readers on the subject of early and medieval baptisteries and fonts.

    This brief introductory article of selected baptismal fonts is concentrated on those in Rome dating from antiquity and the medieval period through the 13th century with the exception of one directed by Pope Benedict XIII in 1725.

    This basin, and an earlier baptismal piece known as the Probus sarcophagus, is documented by Richard J. Powers in his thesis The Baptisteries and Baptismal Fonts in Saint Peter's Church, Rome, 366 to 1982 A.D. As his source, Powers refers to a contemporary of Pope Benedict XIII, Raffaele Sindone, Della Sacrosancta Basilica di S. Pietro in Vaticano (Rome, Italy: Presso Giovanni Maria Salvioni, Vol.2, 1750).

    The reader should be aware that the term baptistery refers to the building or room in which the baptismal basin or font is located. The term font is common usage in literature referring to the baptismal basin.

    A movement within the Catholic Church, supported by the papacy, is called the Cammino Neocatechumenale (New Catechumen Way), has thousands of communities (primarily in Italy and Spain), and seeks to restore early baptismal practice preceded by lengthy instruction and preparation of the baptismal candidate. My hope is that this article may contribute to the energy of the movement.

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  • Santa Cecilia in Trastevere

    An excavation in recent years was carried out beneath this church and revealed a Roman construction, likely Cecilias residence used as a Christian meeting place during the period of persecution before the 4th century. We were pleased to be given a detailed tour by the archaeologists who excavated the site and documented the findings: Dr. Neda Parmegiani and Dr. Alberto Pronti.

    During the early Roman period of persecution, there were three characteristic baths in the residence: a cool bath, a tepid bath, and a hot bath. The interior dimensions of the circular tepid bath are 60 centimeters or 2 feet in depth and 2.60 meters in diameter, approximately 8 feet 8 inches. The floor of the bath was set below the floor level of the Roman house.

    This tepid bath was used as the place of baptism in the house church and continuing until an additional basin was built directly on top of the tepid bath in the 4th or 5th century having the same interior diameter and about one meter or 3 feet 4 inches in depth with three steps to the basin floor including the top rim of the basin. The circular tepid bath can still be seen as the foundation of the 4th century basin built over it. The 4th century basin has a star-shaped exterior design.

    A hollow column was later built over the 4th century basin and was filled with soil where people were then buried. Then above this in the 9th century another immersion basin was constructed, the floor of which can be seen. This basin was destroyed by an earthquake in the 10th century. The soil and skeletal remains were removed during excavation to reveal the earlier basin shown here.

    Another important finding from the 5th century is a stone inscription on the lintel over the entrance to the baptismal basin translated as follows: The sacred basin is for the faith that removes all sins. Whoever immerses here begins life anew. The archaeologists explained that immersion was the mode of baptism in Italy until at least the 10th century.

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    Santa Cecilia in Trastevere 4th to 10th century San Clemente

    Located near the Colosseum and Santi Quattro Coronati, this location began as a 3rd century Mithraeum as part of a private house with subsequent early Christian worship use and has a circular structure disputed to be the remains of a baptismal basin. Guidobaldi excavated the site

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    and says the circular structure is baptismal in design (Journal of Christian Archaeology, 73 (1997), pp.459-491).

    San Crisogono in Trastevere

    An excavation beneath this church was carried out by Alberto Pronti. An earlier church site was discovered and an earlier Roman house dating from the 3rd century where Christians met for worship. A large circular stone baptistery can be seen here measuring about 104 inches for the interior diameter and about two feet in measureable depth. The top rim and floor had deteriorated, and the rim has been recently reinforced with modern bricks to maintain integrity. The wall of a later medieval construction intersects the walls of the basin.

    Crisogono may have been the owner of the house, and some believe the baptistery may have served a double purpose as a laundry basin. As seen with other house sites where Christians met and where later specific church construction developed, there was a basin and an abundant water source used for other purposes such as the thermal bath or impluvium beneath San Pudenziana and the tepid bath used as the baptismal basin at San Cecilia in Trastevere.

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    San Crisogono in Trastevere 3rd century

    Santa Croce in Gerusalemme

    This church building was excavated and documented by Dr. Margherita Cecchelli Trinci of the University of Rome at La Sapienza. Beneath the present building are the remains of a 4th century basilica built by Constantine for his mother Helena and includes the characteristic vertical rectangular marble slabs that line the outside wall of the immersion basin. The slabs are fitted tightly with metal clasps and placed on a concrete surface that overlays the familiar Roman bricks laid horizontally. The top rim of the basin is discernable. As noted in the description of the baptistery of Ostia Antica and Santa Cecilia, the vertical rectangular marble slabs lining the inside wall appear to be a design feature of basins ordered by Constantine.

    The site was too difficult to be viewed by the public during our visit, but a photo and description by Cecchelli can be found in a book we came across in the church bookstore

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    entitled La Basilica di S. Croce in Gerusalemme a Roma: quando lantico e futuro edited by Anna Maria Affanni. Another interesting aspect is that this baptistery and church building are located within sight of the more famous immersion basin and church built by Constantine known as San Giovanni in Laterano. The photo here is used with the permission of Andrea Jemolo.

    Santa Croce in Gerusalemme 4th century

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    San Giovanni in Laterano

    Ordered by the Emperor Constantine, this baptismal site was first constructed in the 4th century and is possibly the largest in Rome. The basin has undergone different reconstructions and was designed for immersion. While some have thought it was the only baptistery in the diocese at that time, there were others functioning including one at his mothers residence down the street where Santa Croce is now located.

    Guidobaldi says in in Private Buildings Transformed into Buildings of Christian Worship: Excavations show that the baptistery of Constantine age had a circular plant with pool in the center, which is also circular and completely coincides with the western apse of an underlying frigidarium, relevant to a domus of the third century.

    San Giovanni in Laterano 4th century

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    San Lorenzo fuori di Muri (Damaso)

    Sebastian Ristow in Fruhchristliche Baptisterien says this location has the remains of a 4th century immersion basin. During our visit, the sacristano said the remains of the basin are now buried under the parking area in front of the church building.

    San Lorenzo in Lucina

    The remains of this 5th century immersion basin can be

    seen in the excavation beneath the present church building. We approached a priest who then appealed to the custodian to allow us to see the baptistery, but he could not find the key. When we returned a few weeks later, he opened the door to the excavation and allowed us free entrance. As we entered one of the many rooms, we saw the circular foundation of a large immersion basin about 12 feet in diameter. The large drain channel for the outflow of water from the basin is clearly visible.

    This site is a short walk from San Marcello al Corso. While it is sometimes claimed that in early centuries only a single baptistery with one bishop served the diocese of Rome, there were in fact numerous baptisteries located throughout the city.

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    San Lorenzo in Lucina 5thcentury Santa Maria Maggiore A 5th century Christian worship site, a baptismal basin is believed to have been located here because of the early date of Christian use and its mention in the Liber Pontificalis.

    Santa Maria in Trastevere Professor Frederico Guidobaldi at the Pontifical Institute of Christian Archaeology says th