sacred vision

St Margaret’s, Bodelwyddan - Font

 

Just off the A55 on the north Wales coast, you pass that triumph of mid-Victorian Gothic known as the Marble Church. St Margaret’s was built by Lady Willoughby de Broke in memory of her husband and consecrated in 1860. Inside is an impressive (rather than attractive or devotional) array of different marbles of all colours, and tucked away at the west end of the north aisle this most unusual font. Art? Bad art, if you will, but striking.

To the modern sensibility the delicate vulnerability of the two young girls, holding the shell for the baptismal water, is all too reminiscent of Lewis Carroll’s photographs of Alice Liddell, taken at much the same time. Around the base are the words, ‘Suffer the little children to come unto me; and forbid them not.’

The sculptor – no doubt with the express connivance of the architect and donor – has managed to subvert one of the two Dominical Sacraments.

Is this truly the sacrament of ‘spiritual regeneration’, or is it rather what most would have preferred to call a ‘Christening’?

It is easy to see why faithful believers could become such fierce advocates of adult baptism alone, if this is the public expression of the meaning and significance of infant baptism.

It is all the more effective as a demonstration of determined heresy for being out of keeping with the rest of the interior of the church. One would expect a stout, multi-coloured, marble-columned, ‘ordinary’ font, echoing perhaps the pillars of the nave.

Instead, we have this gloriously irreverent (or blasphemous) subversion. Think of it as of a piece

with contemporary installation art, and its strange originality has a certain appeal.

Anthony Saville