HERACLES OR CHRIST?
The heavily carved font in the church of St John the Baptist in Stone has a chequered history. It was removed in 1767 from the Church of St Mary at Hampstead Norris, in Berkshire. It then travelled about, was damaged, restored, and was presented in 1844 to the Church at Stone.
Its pictorial and geometric carvings have always been the subject of controversy, and this continues today.
Conflicting interpretations of the carvings were considered by Ellen Ettlinger in an article in the society's own Records of Buckinghamshire in 1964. Drawing on similar carvings on a capital in the Yorkshire Museum and the Greek myths of Heracles, Ellen Ettlinger added her own interpretation.
Some years later this interpretation was challenged by Mary Curtis Webb in a book titled Ideas and Images in 12th-Century Sculpture, though this remained unpublished when she died in 1987. However in 2010 her daughter, Gillian Greenwood, rescued her mother's work and had some copies printed. As a result he book is now available on-line through the University of Ghent in Belgium.
The 12th-century font that is now at Stone is undoubtedly one of Buckinghamshire's significant historic objects – and the interpretation of its carvings is an issue for our understanding of medieval Christianity.
As this issue was first raised in Records of Bucks, this website now makes available both interpretations, in the hope that these may not only be of interest but may encourage further research into this significant 12th-century font and cast more light on the meaning of its carvings.
Follow these links to read: