10th Century Baptismal Font at the Church of Saint Mary,
Melbury Bubb, Dorset, England
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|Patron Saint||Saint Mary|
|Location||Melbury Bubb, Dorset, England|
|Font location in church||In the nave to the left of the door|
|Date/Century/Period||Late 10th or early 11th Century|
|Drainage||Centre hole in bowl|
|Date of On-site Visit||16th September 2004|
The font is a cylindrical tapering bowl, formally part of a circular shaft reversed, face carved with continuous design of beasts and interlacement; beasts include a stag (frequent on Celtic crosses), biting a serpent whose coils interlace the feet of the other animals; a tall horse with paws not hooves; a lion with a mane, biting a small dog with its tail between its legs; and a large animal with a mane (probably a wolf) facing the horse. The are two small legged dragons between the larger animals.
Whatever its precise origin, the whole scene of carved animals is found upside-down.
Yapp, in his treatise on the font at Tollar Fratrum, some five and a half miles (9 km) to the south in the Frome Valley, refers to "another enigmatic font, of a totally different character... It is usually dated at about 1000. The RCHM illustrates sculptured fragments from Melbury Orchard, Batcombe and Cattistock and ascribes them to the 10th and 11th centuries. From these examples it is clear that sculpture flourished in West Dorset at least throughout the 11th century"
Arthur Mee (p. 151) In his usual form, describes it as "the work of some artist far back in time who gave it a bold and handsome circle of hounds chasing deer, with wild beasts preying on each other. Like the lamps of the Foolish Virgins, they are all shown upside down, though the font is shaped like a tumbler and is the right way up. One theory is that the design shows the overthrow of cruelty by the gospel of love; another is that it stands for the overthrow of Creation by sin. It is a very early example of Dorset art, probably part of a sculptured Saxon cross hollowed out for use as a font by the Normans, and is as beautiful as it is curious".
Alternatively, is it possible that the Norman mason simply hollowed out the previously carved shaft from the wrong end before realising his mistake? But then a font with a wide base and narrow top would also look out of proportion.
However, this font is not unique. Bond refers to another hollowed out piller, also upside down, at Wilne, Derbyshire. Fonts formed from parts of other older structures can also be found locally at Tollar Porcorum and Litton Cheney.
Dorset Historic Churches Trust, Dorset Churches. [Dorchester]: DHCT, 1988, p. 34.
Fonts and Font Covers, F. Bond, Oxford University Press 1908, p. 106
Hutchins, J. The history and antiquities of the County of Dorset, 3rd ed., edited by W. Shipp and J.W. Hodson, Westminster: J.B. Nichols, 1861-1873.
Mee, A., ed., Dorset: Thomas Hardy's country. The King's England. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1939, pp. 150-151.
Newman, J. and Pevsner, N., The buildings of England: Dorset. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1972, pp. 272-273.
Royal Commission on Historical Monuments (England), An inventory of historical monuments in the County of Dorset, Vol. 1, West Dorset. London: HMSO, 1952, pp. 157-159.
W.B. Yapp, Dorset Natural History and Antiquities Society volume 109 (1987), The Iconography of the Font at Toller Fratrum, pp. 1-4
|Font Shape||tub||Total Height (without plinth or cover)||85 cm|
|Basin Shape (outside)||circular||Diameter of basin (including rim)||58 cm|
|Basin Shape (inside)||circular||Diameter of basin (not including rim)||43 cm|
|Basin lining||lead||Width of rim||varies from 6.5cm to 8.5cm|
|Base Shape||n/a||Outside Height of Basin||n/a|
|Number of pieces||1||Inside depth of Basin||15 cm|
View of the church looking from the north
View of St. Mary's Church from the grave yard
View of the font from the door
View of the font from the chancel
View looking past the font toward the altar
The front of the font from inside the door
The Stag ~ Press Here for larger picture
The Horse ~ Press Here for larger picture
The Lion ~ Press Here for larger picture
The Wolf ~ Press Here for larger picture
Inverted sketch of the wild beasts preying on each other
|Dorset Historic Churches Trust|