Monday, March 31, 2008


The ever-remarkable Fr. F sent this video in (less than 5 mins.) about the new cathedral in Houston. I have mixed feeling about it but over all agree with the statement made in the video, “This cathedral is obviously a house of God.” Two big thumbs up for that. There would be no mistaking this place for a concert hall, airport terminal, or even “The Church of What’s Happening Now.” The emphasis on devotionals was nice enough but it was interesting that no mention whatever was made about that which makes Catholicism (and Catholic churches) most unique, that which is the source and summit of our faith, the Eucharist. Interesting. (Here is a place to go if you want to see the tabernacle. Notice the direction of the pews in front of it.)

Ah well. . . maybe I’m just old fashioned.

(Though I prefer to think I’m cutting edge.)

Anyway, with the opening shots of the cathedral and entering through the main doors the first thing we encounter is the baptismal font. It is conspicuous in its presence in the main isle. It made me think of baptismal fonts in general – or – more specifically baptisteries. Or to be more specific, the lack of baptisteries. Where have they all gone?

For a spell it seemed that all new construction and renovations of parish churches moved to have baptismal fonts along with every minister, the choir, priests, and the pastor’s dog in the sanctuary. It was the in thing. Now there seems to be a reversal of the tide and people and things seem to be flowing back out of the sanctuary including baptismal fonts, but not so far as for the fonts to make it all the way back to the baptistery.

Most recently the in thing is to have the baptismal font close to the front doors of the church. Ah, but this is, believe it or not, not a post about baptismal fonts whose fashions demand that it roam about our churches like Moses in the desert, it is about the long lost step child of Catholic architecture: the baptistery.

If you have an older church you may have one of these though you might be hard pressed to know it. The church at which I am currently had a baptistery though the font is now out in the nave near the sanctuary. The windows in this room all have a baptismal theme. There is St. John baptizing Jesus and the parents of Mary. There is even a white patch in the floor (next to the yellow trash can) where the drain for the baptismal font used to be. For years this was used as a choir room (now in the former boy’s sacristy) but is now used for storage and the hiding of trash until it can be hauled out.

I wish I had an interior shot of this baptistery. You can see it off to the right of the Cathedral of Saint John. It is a small octagonal room (8 being the symbolic number for baptism) with murals painted in the ceiling. The new baptistery is located on the side aisle near the sanctuary. The old baptistery is now (as of a couple of years ago anyway) used as a bridal chamber and a place to distribute Holy Oils after the Chrism Mass.

To the right is my home parish (no longer in existence.) The baptistery was located through the door to the far left of the main entrance. It was replaced by a baptismal font on wheels that could be moved about the sanctuary. *sigh*

Next is a shot of the old baptistery of a great old Church called Saint Augustine. I’m not sure what it is used for now but when I worked at the church it was a shop for Precious Moments statues and First Communion Veils. The new font is in the north transept just off the sanctuary, which is a vast improvement from the glass bowl they used to put on the communion rail.

Saint Bernard’s in down town Akron converted their baptistery into a museum of sorts. Immaculate Conception in Cleveland had a beautiful baptistery that some renovation-turned-bad left it less than ideal but at some point I know they wanted to restore it. I’ll have to check in on them and see what’s up.

Saint Joseph just moved their baptismal font from the narthax into the sanctuary. The new bapstismal font is large enough for full emersion and is heated. The old area has been absorbed as part of the gathering space where Fr. B reports, "That is where they sometimes set up a table for different organizations after Mass."

Old baptisteries never die, they are just fired from their jobs and take on employment as museums, bridal chambers, storage, gathering areas, stores. So, if you are from an older parish, take a look around for a room that might be masquerading as an over decorated janitor’s closet. It may be that many a baby was baptized where boxes of toilet paper are now stored.


Anonymous said...

ROFL! I have this mental image of the baptismal font just wandering around, seeing the sights....LOL! (And I'm also really happy that I didn't select a particular VBS program, solid in theology, but which has as its characters the Tabernacle and Baptismal Font personified!)

Most of the parishes I attend are more modern in design. In mine, the font is between the tabernacle and the sanctuary, in the other, it is off to the side.

And there's so much symbolism with the's too bad so many architects decided to go away from the ancient symbolism in favor of...well...whatever's going on now.

DominiSumus said...

The baptistry at my church was located in an alcove in the sacristy.

When the font was moved into the nave, the baptistry became the priest's closet.

A few years ago, the church ws renovated and the sacristy was made smaller. The baptistry is now the restroom. People always comment on the strange architecture (it's a 1/2 circle).

The font is now located in the back of the nave, off to the right.

Anonymous said...

Hi Fr. V -

The former baptistery @ St. Bernard is beautiful, even if it isn't used for its Baptisms anymore. It is a peaceful room with the ceiling painted midnight blue with gold-leaf stars. As you said, it is a bit of a history room, with old parish photos as well as the vigil lights. A parishioner constructed a scale model of the church building (lit from inside), with exact replicas of the stained glass (on plasticine) and scale photographic models of staff and parishioners. Our actual antique baptismal font has thankfully replaced the ghastly modernistic water fountain that was in place for a few years, and is located near the St. Joseph altar at the front of the church. Very best wishes to you and your parish.

Fr. V said...


Wait! That other - um - thing. What that ACTUALLY A BAPTISMAL FONT??? Are we talking about the same thing? It was big and white and kind of non-descript sculpture - thing? I thought that was just a piece of *ahem* art . . .

Anyway - yes! What you have now looks fabulous and I am sorry to say - or rather excited to say that I've not seen the model of the church and look forward to seeing it when next I am down Akron way!

Anonymous said...

My local church used to have four confessionals. One was turned into the storage room for musicians, one was ripped out to make a shrine for Blessed Mary McKillop and another is being ripped out to build a baptistry. The one remaining confessional is the hardest to get to but that doesn't matter because father will sit anywhere in the pews of the church to hear your confession.

Jeffrey Smith said...

My parish had to be odd. When it was renovated after a fire, in 1920, we ended up with having a big room as a sacristy/baptistry/day chapel/meeting room combination behind the sanctuary. The platform and an enormous painting of the Apostles preaching and baptizing are still there, along with a twenty-foot-wide vestment cabinet, a spare altar, and a couple big statues. The font ( The basin's Wedgwood, no less. ) is in the Sacred Heart Chapel.

Anonymous said...

Our baptistery is in the left side of the sanctuary. In the back of the church we have an ushers room where the collection baskets are stored and on the other side a brides room which doubles as a small library. Now I'll have to check them out this weekend to see if one was used as the baptistery at one time.


Anonymous said...

Our baptistery has been turned into a church library.


Anonymous said...

I noticed that the Stations didn't have a cross above them. I thought that was mandatory.

What a pity the Blessed Sacrament is not behind the altar and that the seating is so badly placed.

Anonymous said...

Hi Fr. V -

It is I, the St. Bernard's correspondent. No, the ghastly water fountain was not a baptistry. I'm not sure why we had it in the front of the church for a time, but for me, listening to it was a "call to nature" and always left me wanting to make a bathroom run (sorry to be graphic!) It reminded me of an iceberg, and it certainly did not fit with the "decor" and we are better off without it. I think when it was there, it shared space with our lovely antique baptismal font, with a small sculpture of Our Lord being Baptised by St. John on the lid.

Do stop and visit St. B's if you are ever out our way. We love visitors. I think it is one of the most stunning churches in the Diocese, and I love it (and pray God it doesn't close in the clustering - we are a very nice parish). The scale model is quite something - a parishioner painstakingly created it over a 10-year period, and it is truly a labor of love. - smk

Anonymous said...

I guess if baptism was mainly about stain glass windows and pretty decorated ceilings this would be a compelling argument; but inasmuch as baptism is about water and the initiation of a person into a faith community, it's not troubling that those aspects of baptism that are actually integral seem to trump those that are emphemoral. It could be argued that the most dramatic case of a relocated font from an original location to the church body is St. Colman on W65/Cleveland Diocese. The room in which the font was located was clearly designed for its purpose, but there was not enough room for baptisms to be conducted in a manner other than quite private. The relocated font enables the sacrament of initiation into the community to be actually witnessed by and celebrated in the context of the community.

A principle of architectural design is that form follows funtion. Just as human beings were not created to serve the sabbath, the liturgy was not created to serve the architechural design of another era; particuarly one that lacked the insights into sacramental and ecclesiastical theology provided by the Second Vatican Council.

Adoro said...

anon~ I'm understanding your point, but Vatican II did not do away with the ancient symbolism of the Church. And you're right that liturgy was not designed to follow architectural design; it was designed to bring people to Christ. As Christ transcends us all, and as many of the post Vatican II churches emphasize the people and not the God whom we are baptized to worship, well, then we really need to return to our roots and come to understand not only the predominance of baptism, but of our own faith in the symbolism inherent in the liturgy. While much of what you say seems to discredit the arguments of traditinal liturgical symbolism, I would argue that perhaps you (and everyone) might benefit from a basic understanding of the foundational reality of our faith and what the Documents actually declared...which of themselves, contradict what you imply in your comment.

Anonymous said...

Well said, Adoro!

Anonymous said...

Fr. Valencheck.
St. Sebastian's has the room, and as Pastor, you have the ability, move the Baptisimal Font back to where it belongs, in the baptistery. It fits it better, it helps people to understand the entire Rite of Baptism, and keeps the Baptismal Font out of the Sanctuary. I think your parishoners would be thrilled if you made this very inexpensive resoration. Thank you.