Baptism in the Early Church: History, Theology, and Liturgy in the First Five Centuries

By Everett Ferguson | Go to book overview

54. Baptismal Fonts: West

Italy

Italy is home to a fairly large number of early baptisteries.1 Some of the most important of these have been discussed already because of their connection with literary sources: Lateran, Rome (chap. 49), Milan (chap. 40; Figure 19), and Aquileia (chap. 41; Figure 20).2

There is shown under St. Mark’s in Venice a baptistery claimed to be of the third century.

The piscina of the baptistery at Aosta reveals four phases of development (Ristow #s 328-331). These illustrate the common shapes of baptismal fonts: (1) round/polygonal in phase one (end of fourth century); (2) cross within a circle with one step on each side (fifth/sixth century); (3) octagon (sixth century?); and (4) square (? — seventh-ninth century). The progressive reduction in size from an exterior diameter of nearly 3 meters and interior diameter of over 2.40 meters to an interior dimension of 1.80 meters may reflect increased use of affusion or the decline of adult baptism. A secondary font, square in shape, in an annex may reflect the great number of baptisms at the paschal season in the fifth and sixth centuries that required the bishop to have two baptisteries at his disposal or the use of separate fonts for men and women.3

1. Eugenio Russo et al., L’edificio battesimale in Italia: Aspetti e problemi: Atti dell’VIII Congresso Nazionale di Archeologia Cristiana… 21-26 settembre 1998 (Bordighera: Istituto Internazionale di Studi Liguri, 2001), 2 vols., has mainly other interests but contains some information on baptismal basins. Vincenzo Fiocchi Nicolai and Sauro Gelichi, “Battisteri e chese rurali (IV-VII secolo),” in that work catalog fifty-five rural baptisteries in Italy (303-384).

2. S. Anita Stauffer, On Baptismal Fonts: Ancient and Modern (Bramcote/Nottingham: Grove Books, 1994), gives a popular survey of nearly fifty western fonts; significant criticism and corrections are found in the review by Noël Duval, “Architecture et liturgie,” Revue des études Augustiniennes 42 (1996): 121–127.

3. Charles Bonnet and Renato Perinetti, Aoste aux premiers temps chrétiens (Aosta: Musumeci, 1986), pp. 24–30, with pictures and plans.

-836-

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