The following is part one of a three-part blog post on baptismal fonts wherein I will look at various technical and design issues. A companion blog post, written by Ben Heimsath, will delve more into the liturgical aspects of baptism and how they relate to the overall space.
I truly enjoy designing religious spaces (churches, temples, worship spaces, sanctuaries, chapels, prayer spaces, etc.), as they allow me to explore the artistic side of design while combining it with the technical side of engineering. I have always been interested in both; I have a BA in engineering with a minor in visual studies and have been planning on being an architect since 7th grade. Occasionally, we have been commissioned to design baptismal fonts for our spaces, and this really plays to the combination of art and technology that I enjoy so much.
St. Albert Trapani Catholic Church, Houston, TX -- Zero-edge font with immersion
Fortunately, we are seeing our clients pay more attention to baptism and how it fits within in the spaces we design. The symbol of baptism, the symbol of flowing waters and the beauty of these pieces have led many of our clients to allow us to create meaningful, sculptural fonts in prominent locations in their worship spaces. We have seen the concept of immersion baptism spread beyond the traditions of Catholic, Baptist and Mormon churches to new locations and new denominations.
If you are thinking about designing or commissioning a new baptismal Font, there are four basic issues to consider: type, location, code, and technicalities.
I think of baptismal fonts as belonging to one of three categories: traditional, flowing, and immersion. Actually there is a fourth category, but since bodies of water (like lakes, streams, oceans—the original location for baptism) do not require much designing on my part, I won’t cover those here.
Three Traditional Fonts: St. John Lutheran, Boerne, TX – First United Methodist Chapel, Austin, TX – First Presbyterian, Bryan, TX
The first of the three man-made types is the traditional font. This type of font usually involves some sort of stand with a vessel to hold the water. They are often moveable (depending on the size and weight of the stand and bowl) and usually do not have flowing water. We have done a portable traditional font with flowing water using a small battery-powered recirculation pump (from a camping store), but I am not sure I want to repeat this. There are an infinite number of different ways one can combine materials, stands, and bowls to come with a beautiful design that fits the space.
The second type of baptismal font is what I call a flowing water font. This type of font adds flowing water and sometimes a shallow pool to add the imagery and sound of flowing water. Though the flowing water makes the font fixed in location and more complicated/expensive to design and build, the advantages in terms of beauty, feel, and what they can add to the space make them very popular.
St. Elizabeth Catholic Church, Lubbock TX – Water flows from bowl and splashes inside special area where it magically drains. Gates allow people to flow through during baptism, but close the font off for safety reasons at other times.
Wellspring United Methodist Church, Georgetown TX – Water bubbles up through a limestone slab found on site as part of excavation.
Salem Lutheran Church, Houston TX – Water flows out of the custom-made red glass bowl down the limestone support and into a 9” pool.
The third type of baptismal font is an immersion font. In these fonts the water is deep enough that an adult can be completely submerged. While the much deeper water brings in a lot more technical difficulties, such as getting people safely in and out of the water and keeping the water clean and heated, the symbolism is great and is required in some churches.
First Baptist, Dripping Springs, TX – A traditional behind-the-platform baptismal font with a pre-manufactured fiberglass vessel.
St. Frances Cabrini, Houston, TX – A statue of John the Baptist pours water to the upper bowl, which serves for baptism of infants and as a Holy Water Font. The water then flows down the stone to the immersion pool.
That is it for this week. Next week we will look at the location of the baptismal font!