touching place      ST MICHAEL, CASTLE FROME, HEREFS

The church is an early 12th building with Norman windows and doorways, but you do not come to Castle Frome to see those. Just inside the door is maybe the very finest Romanesque font in England (c.1140), standing upon three crouching figures, presumably symbolizing sin.

The top of the bowl has a motif of three-stranded interlace ornament, and the bottom single-stranded interlace. The Four Evangelists are represented – the winged ox of St Luke, the winged lion of St Mark, the eagle of St John and the flying angel of St Matthew, all rather put into the shade by the representation of the Baptism of Christ.

A naked Christ is half-immersed in a pool of water with two pairs of fish and surrounded by concentric ripples. St John’s head is turned towards the viewer and he wears a chasuble on top of other vestments; the barefoot

Baptist holds up his right hand in blessing, wearing a maniple on the wrong (right) wrist. The Hand of God the Father emerges from the interlace above, while the Dove of the Holy Spirit is touching the head of Christ with its beak, so we have the Baptism of Christ and the Holy Trinity (a favourite Norman dedication) rolled into one. Like other great works of Romanesque art, unsubtle, but immensely powerful.

‘[In] the birth by water and the Spirit, [Jesus] himself led the way in this birth, drawing down upon the water, by his own baptism, the Holy Spirit; so that in all things he became the firstborn of those who are spiritually born again, and gave the name of brethren to those who partook in a birth like to his own by water and the Spirit’ (St Gregory of Nyssa).

Map reference: SO 668459

Simon Cotton

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