Thursday, February 20, 2020

NLM Quiz no. 22: What is This Object’s Liturgical Function? The Answer

The liturgical function of this object can be described with two words; can you guess what it is? The object is broken. (The parts of the photo that have been blacked out do not cover any part of the object itself, but didactic materials in the museum display which might have given something away.) Please leave your answer in the combox, but also feel free to add any details or explanations you think pertinent. As always, to keep it more interesting, please leave your answer before reading the other comments. We are always pleased to read humorous answers as well. Depending on the number of responses, the correct answer will be given later in the day tomorrow (which is going to be a very busy for me), or early Friday.

The Answer: The object is indeed a baptismal font, as correctly guessed by Catherine, and (with some hedging) Gail Finke. The central part has a depression in the middle of it to hold the water, the upper part, which is now missing a large section, was the cover. It was made in the 12th century for the church of St Michael on Mt Gargano in the Puglia region of Italy, the famous shrine which gave rise to the feast of the Apparition of St Michael.
The award for Best Wildly Incorrect answer goes to truthfinder for the suggestion that it might be from an “anchorite cell - where the anchoress can see into the church and even receive Communion.” The Best Humorous Answer award goes to Rob Pryb, not just because no one else submitted one: “an acrophobic stylite’s pole decked out with roof.” Nicely done!
Here are closer views of the four sides, each of which is decorated with two Biblical stories. Click on the photos to see them in higher resolution.
Upper register: the Annunciation to Mary; lower register, the Annunciation to Zachary.
Upper register: the Nativity; lower register, Balaam and the Ass (this later story is a prelude to the Epiphany because of the words of Balaam’s prophecy, “A star shall rise out of Jacob and a sceptre shall spring up from Israel”, Numbers 24, 17.) 
Upper register: the Crucifixion, with the Virgin Mary to the right; lower register, Ss Peter and Paul.
Upper register: the Ascension, with the Virgin Mary to the right; lower register, Moses makes water run from the rock, as recounted in Numbers 20, an episode long associated with the sacrament of Baptism.
The corners of the base are decorated with lions, one of the most popular animals in Romanesque decorations, each holding a crown above a column on one of the sides.

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