For more than 150 years, Salisbury Cathedral had no permanent font. Instead, there was a small gothic-style Victorian basin that was wheeled out for baptisms from a side chapel.
Enter then Canon Treasurer and now Dean of Salisbury, the Very Reverend June Osborne, who set in motion the commission for a new permanent font. Rather than take the easy route of installing a neo-gothic clone of many other fonts, Osborne argued strenuously for a new work of art – something that would show Salisbury cathedral as looking forward rather than being constrained by its history. Osborne commissioned prominent British water sculptor William Pye.
Conscious that the church is renowned for its conservatism, Pye developed a series of designs which were placed in the cathedral to test the reaction of the parishioners – starting in 2001 – with the final design being approved in 2007. The result was gradual acceptance of a reflecting water surface as a font and a remarkable artistic achievement combining stillness and movement in the cruciform font – the largest in any UK cathedral.
The font measures 3m across (10 feet) with the vessel itself made from bronze, set onto a purbeck marble square base. The font is shaped to channel water into four spouts at the corners which pour into bronze drains set into the floor.
The surface is so smooth that visitors have been known to place bags and cameras on what they think is a hard shiny surface, only to see their belongings disappear into the water.
As the previous post here has noted, the font provides an excellent opportunity for some spectacular reflections of the stained glass windows.
Consecrated by the Archbishop of Canterbury on 28 September 2008, the font is a daring and great addition to the cathedral, and is admired by the many thousands of local and international visitors as well as the local congregation.
The photo was taken from the balcony over the West Front, during the start of the Tower tour – which will be the subject of a subsequent post 🙂