A 12th Century Baptismal Font Upon Twelve Oxen

Liège (Belgium), St. Barhélemy (Bartholomew) - Baptismal font of Renier de Huy (first part of the XIIth century).  Author: Jean-Pol Grandmont (Private collection).

Liège (Belgium), St. Barhélemy (Bartholomew) - Baptismal font of Renier de Huy (first part of the XIIth century). Author: Jean-Pol Grandmont (Private collection).

And he made a molten sea, ten cubits from the one brim to the other: it was round all about, and his height was five cubits: and a line of thirty cubits did compass it round about.

And under the brim of it round about there were knops compassing it, ten in a cubit, compassing the sea round about: the knops were cast in two rows, when it was cast.

It stood upon twelve oxen, three looking toward the north, and three looking toward the west, and three looking toward the south, and three looking toward the east: and the sea was set above upon them, and all their hinder parts were inward.

And it was an hand breadth thick, and the brim thereof was wrought like the brim of a cup, with flowers of lilies: it contained two thousand baths.1

I came across this interesting artifact while touring through Liège, Belgium, a few years ago. Unfortunately, we were in a rush and could not see it in person, but we spoke with members of the Church there who told us about it and who gave us pamphlets of the city which included it as one of the city’s premiere landmarks.

It is a baptismal font that was fashioned by the goldsmith Renier de Huy in the first half of the 12th century and now sits in the Eglise Saint Barhélemy (Church of St. Bartholomew). Originally it was made for the Eglise Notre-Dame-aux-Fonts (Church of Our Lady of the Baptismal Font), and was the only font in Liège where the faithful could be baptized for a time. The moldings which surround the font are all centered on a baptismal theme with five different baptismal scenes, including the baptism of Christ. It is a great example of Mosan or Rheno-mosan art.

The most unique thing about the font is that it was designed upon the backs of twelve oxen, in accordance with the description of the molten sea given in the Old Testament. One commenter describes it:

The font is placed on four stones and is carried by 10 oxen (originally 12 oxen) that symbolize the twelve apostles.2

I’m not sure why the commenter chose to select the twelve apostles as the symbolism, as most scholars would probably agree that they represent the twelve tribes of Israel, but it is interesting nonetheless. The members of the Church in Liège consider this landmark as an evidence of the truth of the restoration of the gospel. It shows that others did, in fact, baptize in a font upon the backs of twelve oxen, just as the Latter-day Saints do within every temple of the Church throughout the world.

Read more here – http://www.trabel.com/luik/liege-baptismalfont.htm.

Notes:
  1. 1 Kings 7:23–26 []
  2. http://www.trabel.com/luik/liege-baptismalfont.htm []

19 Comments

  1. TARA
    Posted February 26, 2008 at 7:19 pm | Permalink

    Fascinating! I served 5 months of my mission in Liege, and I never heard of this. I’d love to go back and see it sometime.

  2. Posted February 27, 2008 at 6:59 am | Permalink

    Thanks for this post. Recently as I participated in baptisms in the London temple, I sat back and admired the font carried on the backs of twelve oxen and its placement in the baptistry. It had a profound effect on me that this post summons once again.

  3. Posted February 27, 2008 at 7:22 am | Permalink

    If you ask me, although the twelve oxen are interesting, the most interesting thing is that it was clearly designed for baptism by immersion.

  4. Posted February 27, 2008 at 8:00 am | Permalink

    You are right Jon.

    In addition to the fact that it was clearly for full immersion baptisms, traditionally biblical scholars would say that the molten sea was used in Old Testament times only for washings and purification rites. It is interesting here that a group brought it back from antiquity for use in full immersion baptisms.

  5. Posted February 27, 2008 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

    I’ve got a picture of myself as a missionary holding Talmage’s The Great Apostasy behind that font :)

    It’s not big enough to do immersion baptisms in, being maybe 2.5 feet in diameter. Perhaps immersion baptisms of infants, but you’d have to be a small 8-year old or tiny adult. I don’t think the molten sea in the OT was for baptisms either…

  6. Posted February 27, 2008 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

    Lol… ok so maybe not big enough for immersion baptisms. ;) Although if they had built it to scale following the OT specs it would have been 15 feet across and 7.5 feet deep – almost a swimming pool. (Why did the Israelites need it that big?)

    It’s also interesting that the moldings of the various figures around the circumference of the font all show adults being baptized in fonts. It looks like they are sitting (crouching) in them.

  7. Posted February 28, 2008 at 4:46 am | Permalink

    jondh, there is plenty of other evidence that many of the early Christian and even Catholic churches believed in and practiced baptism by immersion. The Catholic Encyclopedia even acknowledges and discusses it.

  8. Posted February 28, 2008 at 7:31 am | Permalink

    I showed a photo of an early Christian baptismal font in one of my posts a couple weeks ago. You can see it here. It appears to have steps down into it and is large enough for baptism by immersion, which is what I believe the early Christians were practicing.

  9. Bethany Klick
    Posted June 18, 2009 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    In response to why the old testament dimensions were so large (15 ft.) it is possible that they did multiple baptisms at a time…?

  10. Posted June 18, 2009 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

    Baptisms, in the traditional sense that we think about them, were not performed in the Old Testament times. But it was a basin for washing, cleansing, and purifying in order to perform the rites of the Tabernacle.

  11. Bethany Klick
    Posted June 19, 2009 at 10:40 am | Permalink

    sorry, that’s what I meant, that they could have multiple people performing such rights at a time. Especially at large Jewish holidays where the cities and temples were packed with Jews that came from miles around. I expect that they would be running the temple at full steam through those times, with sacrifices and such, wouldn’t they?

    and if it were shallow, well that would make sense for the purposes they used it for…

  12. Posted July 29, 2009 at 8:29 pm | Permalink

    A friend sent me a link to a very similar font found in the Victoria and Albert Museum. This one does not appear to have 12 oxen, however:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/edeevo/3740711336/in/pool-445248@N21

  13. Posted July 31, 2009 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

    I took the picture mentioned above at the Victoria and Albert Museum, and I can attest to it not having 12 oxen (there were 10).

  14. Posted May 3, 2010 at 1:03 am | Permalink

    Bryce,

    I love seeing things like this that reinforce my testimony of the church. Thank you!

  15. Susan J.
    Posted July 5, 2010 at 7:14 am | Permalink

    FYI- When the Bible was translated into English, the words “baptize” and “baptism” were placed in the text as Greek words, rather than being translated for their true meaning, which is “to immerse” (see Strong’s Exhaustive Condordance of the Bible). So why use the Greek rather than just translating them into English like the rest of the text? Because by then sprinkling was the method used, not the proper full immersion practiced in the primitive church. Some apologists will claim sprinkling was used in the Bible, but it almost always in connection with blood, or oil- water is mentioned only with ceremonial purification of Levites and the sick.

  16. Anthony D.
    Posted January 2, 2011 at 7:10 pm | Permalink

    I find what is depicted on the font in the picture to be most interesting. From what I can tell it is representing the baptism of Jesus Christ? You can see what seems to be the head of God the Father above the one being baptized, and the dove, symbolic of the Holy Ghost descending. Given the halo around the head of the one officiating in the ordinance, he must have been a person of some significance, John the Baptist perhaps? Also you see the same with the one being baptized from what I can see, which leads me to think it may be the Baptism of Christ being depicted. One could also see symbolism in the trees, perhaps the clothing as well and what appears to be some kind of garment or cloth being presented to the one being baptized.

  17. James W. (Jim) Hunt
    Posted May 3, 2011 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    Why are the fonts on the back of ox’s. Why did they choose that animal?

  18. Posted May 3, 2011 at 8:21 pm | Permalink

    from the Ensign, March 1993, 54-55

    At the dedication of this structure, commonly called “the tabernacle,” the leaders of each tribe presented a variety of gifts and offerings. Among them were six wagons drawn by twelve oxen for the proper transport of the tabernacle. (See Num. 7:2–8.)

    In ancient Israel, the ox, “bull,” “wild bull,” (or “unicorn,” as it is rendered in the King James Version) was a type or symbol of strength and power. (See Num. 23:22, n. 22a; Num. 24:8.) In addition, the bull and wild bull symbolize the people of Joseph as represented by his two sons Ephraim and Manasseh. (See Deut. 33:17, n. 17b.)

    Thus, we can see that the twelve oxen represent the tribes of Israel and also signify the strength and power on which God has established his work for the children of mankind. Those who are obedient and faithful to their covenants are the covenant family chosen to accomplish God’s purposes. They are the ones upon whom his work “rests,” just as the temple fonts rest upon the backs of the oxen.

  19. Bob Stringham
    Posted August 25, 2012 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

    We just arrived home from a short trip to Belgium. I served there as a Missionary from 1961 to 1964. I had heard of the font but never took the time while I was posted in Liege to go see it. This time my wife and I made a point to hunt it down and were successful. Too small for youth or adult baptisms but still a moving sight.

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