Carved from a single block of local stone, the font is probably 15th century work, though the pedestal was made in 1868 and the steps are a good deal more recent.
The bowl is lined with lead – and a brass plug allows consecrated water to drain into the church grounds. A large and ornate wooden cover is suspended on a chain with significant counterweights. This was a necessary part of the font as it was normally kept filled with consecrated water which was only changed anually, on Easter Day. In 1236 it was ordered that all fonts should have a lockable lid. Steps needed to be taken to prevent the theft of this holy water for any “unholy” purposes.
I can only think that by Good Friday each year, the font water was, to say the least, quite ripe!
What form the original cover took is unknown. A canopy was given to the church by the canons of Bolton Priory. Legend suggests that this was the Abbey font cover that was removed when the Priory was dissolved in 1539.
In 1825 a gallery was erected above the font and that old cover was broken up, made into a set of twelve chairs and auctioned. Just 44 years later in 1868/9, the gallery was dismantled and the current cover was donated by Mrs Tennant of Kildwick Hall. It is said to be a “close copy” of the dismantled Bolton Abbey cover.
Each of the eight faces of the font shows an image related to the crucifixion.
There are three names:
“John” is written in Old English Blackletter script and the monogram for the Blessed Virgin Mary is separated with a panel, “IHC”
“ΙΗΣΟΥΣ” is the word, “Jesus” in Greek lettering. The “H” is a Greek capital Eta (η in lower case). That’s a long “e” as, indeed, in “Jesus” as opposed to the short “e” of Epsilon as in “better. “Σ” (σ in lower case) is a Sigma – the Greek “S” and it is easy to see how that is (maybe wrongly) set down as a “C”. You will frequently see “IHS” in church pictures and hangings. Both forms, “IHS” and “IHC” can be found almost interchangeably.
So here, either side of Jesus on the cross, we have his mother, Mary and John, “the disciple who Jesus loved”.
The remaining five panels show items associated with the crucifixion
A sponge and spear. The sponge recalls the vinegar offered to Jesus on a sponge (see Matthew 27:48).
Two scourges. Jesus was scourged by Pilate before he sent him to the Romans to be crucified (Matthew 27:26)
Three nails and two dice. As the soldiers crucified Jesus, they cast lots to divide his clothes among them (Matthew 26:35)
A sword and a spear. To ensure that Jesus was dead, a soldier pierced Jesus’ side with a spear (John 19:34)
A hammer and pincers.
It may seem strange to cover a font with scenes from the crucifixion, but Baptism is a death to sin. Paul’s letter to the Romans (6:3-4) spells it out:
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.