Research of the Medieval Baptismal Fonts in Transylvania (I.) Cover Image

Az erdélyi középkori kő keresztelőmedencék kutatása (I.)
Research of the Medieval Baptismal Fonts in Transylvania (I.)

Author(s): Edit Tari
Subject(s): Cultural history, Architecture, Middle Ages
Published by: Erdélyi Múzeum-Egyesület
Keywords: Transylvania; Medieval Age; stone baptismal font; liturgy pf baptism; stone carving; provincial; typology

Summary/Abstract: Though Medieval stone baptismal fonts belonged to implements of important liturgical events of the Christian Church, their study has been at the periphery of art and architecture historical research in Hungary. The author collected 534 pieces from the territory of medieval Hungarian Kingdom, among them 175 pieces from Transylvania. This research is not complete yet, but some characteristic features already can be outlined. Medieval Latin name is fons baptismalis. In the Middle Ages baptisms were held usually on Saturday of Easter Week, though in reasonable cases it could alter. We have several written sources with data considering baptismal fonts, baptism or baptismal font consecration. In the Pray Codex we have information on the 12th century ceremony of consecration of baptismal water, baptismal font and chrisma in Hungary. Triple immersion (immersio) in baptismal water from the early Christian age could be replaced by the ceremony of pouring consecrated water onto the head of the baptised person. Church could allow to prefer the use of aspersion (infusio) instead of full submersion which (at least for climatic reasons) would have limited the possibility of baptising. Judging from the dimensions of Transylvanian baptismal fonts, they were used for infant baptism. The fonts should be covered by tops: e.g. in the canonica visitatio of Esztergom from 1397 the covering and cleanness of the fonts was controlled. I have illustrations of 86 percents of the 175 Transylvanian baptismal fonts. Part of the fonts remained out of context (in museums, lapidaria, parish gardens and vicarages). Among the collected pieces, sometimes primitive provincial fonts mingle with real works of art. In many cases instead of exact dating only the medieval character of the pieces can be determined because of their heterogeneous and archaic features. Comparing to the middle part of the country, in Transylvania and especially in Székely Land the change of new architectural styles began later, but from then on they lasted much longer than in other part of Hungary. Almost each font is specific in a way, and grouping on the basis of certain features can be done only superficially. Dating can be made more exact after thorough, detailed complex study of churches and their equipment together with the fonts. Despite of the uncertainties listed above there is several regularities, general tendencies to be found in the course of study of baptismal fonts in the Carpathian Basin. Motifs referring to close relations can be found also in the Transylvanian heritage. On the basis of our present knowledge no workshops can be outlined judging from the material on our disposal. For the better understanding of the material I separated some big groups.Type 1.: Bowl-shaped, hemisphere like form with walls slightly widening upwards. These pieces are poorly or not decorated at all. Some are known from Hosszúaszó, Gyergyóújfalu and Magyarvalkó. Hemisphere-shaped baptismal bowl from Szászszőllős and a piece from Sálya probably also belongs to this type. On the basis of examples from Slovakia it can be of Romanesque Age. The way of use of these very low (max. 40-50 cm high) stone baptismal fonts has not been determined yet.Type 2. Two-part (basin and supporting pillar, no foot), block like, squat pieces. The wider basin is supported by a more narrow, undecorated, mostly squab and simple foot: Barót, Felsősófalva, Nagydisznód, Ótorda, Pókakeresztúr, Szentdemeter, Vargyas etc.Type 3. Chalice-shaped pieces with a node or without it. They have a triple profilation, which is very variable from the point of view of proportions and shaping. Generally the domination of the bowl is characteristic, it is wider than the foot. These are fonts cylindrical. Most of them belong to the Romanesque Age: Bélafalva, Csíkcsatószeg, Csíkrákos, Homoródkarácsonyfalva, Miklósvár etc. It can be certainly said that Gothic baptismal fonts are usually polygonal; octagonal, like e.g. the ones from Nyujtód, Székelykövesd etc. We know hexagonal fonts (Homoródbene, Szászegerbegy), decagonal ones (Alsóbajom) and dodecagonal ones (Nagydisznód). The type of chalice-shaped baptismal fonts carved of stone had spread all around Central Europe starting from the 13th century. At the beginning there were no nodes decorating them. While richly decorated fonts standing at four legs mostly decorated with animal figures are widely known from most of Europe, there are no any similar pieces from Transylvania and the rest of the Carpathian Basin. In some cases altar chalices made of precious metals and used during service could be the direct patterns for the stone fonts. An excellent example for the imitation of the altar chalices is the baptismal font from Rudály, the patterns of which could be pieces similar to Transylvanian chalices from Szakadát, Keresd and Nagyekemező. Node decorated with a rhomb standing on its corner was a generally favoured shape in Transylvania. Similarly to the previous pieces, decoration of a rhomb shaped node seems to be present at the baptismal font of Nagybaromlak. Sometimes nodes divided into several rings can be found at stone fonts, like e.g. in the churches of Csíkrákos, Csíkszentmárton, Csíkszentmihály, Csíkszépvíz, Gyergyószárhegy, Lövéte and Mikháza. We find similar pieces neither in Slovakia, nor in West Hungary, but in Central Europe they are known from the early-15th century at bronze baptismal fonts. Blind arcade of the Gothic baptismal font is the most spectacular type in the group of chalice shaped pieces. Not only its beauty, but its good dating makes it very attractive for researchers. This type is not characteristic for any special region and cannot be found in the whole of the Carpathian Basin. In Transylvania I have recorded eight cases in the following settlements: Baráthely, Berethalom, Bordos, Boroskrakkó, Fületelke, Nagyekemező, Rádos, Segesvár.Type 4. Column like, angular baptismal fonts. This is the most architectonic shape imitating architectural details. Usually it is determined as Romanesque. Fonts from Csíkdelne, Csíkszentkirály, Gyergyószárhegy, Inaktelke, Lövéte, Olasztelek, Pálfalva etc. belong to this type. Even in this heterogeneous material it is possible to find examples, the carving and decoration of which show a conspicuous relationship. Round fonts from Homoródkarácsonyfalva and Bélafalva show a striking similarity with each other. Decoration and shape of the fonts, form of the nodes – all these features refer to the similarity of the pieces. They are considered to be Romanesque. Fonts from Mikháza and Csíkszentmárton are similar both in details of shape and decoration. These pieces were dated by researchers to the 16th century, the Late Gothic – Early Renaissance time. Another group of Transylvanian baptismal fonts from the 11th–15th cc. was made of wood. Some pieces survived until our days (Halmágy, Darlac, Barcaújfalu, Bátos, Höltövény, Lesses). They clearly attest to the existence of baptismal fonts carved of wood. The earliest examples come from Halmágy (around 1500) and Darlac (1527). Material collected from the Carpathian Basin is very variable, colourful and I hope that it will draw attention to this part of the cultural heritage. However, the salvage of these liturgical objects from perishing is a huge task, even comparing to the problem of interpretation and processing of actual data.

  • Issue Year: 2012
  • Issue No: VI-VII
  • Page Range: 173-190
  • Page Count: 18
  • Language: Hungarian