SALISBURY CATHEDRAL'S NEW FONT - A MODERN TREASUREIssued Wednesday 24th September 2008
Salisbury Cathedral’s exquisite new font, the culmination of an on-going project initiated 10 years ago by the then Canon Treasurer and now Dean of Salisbury, the Very Revd June Osborne, is seen today for the first time in its full beauty filled with flowing water and truly reflecting the Cathedral’s majestic 750 year old architecture.
Perhaps the most significant addition to the fabric of an English Cathedral in recent years, it has been designed by William Pye, Britain’s most distinguished water sculptor, and is the Cathedral’s first permanent font for over 150 years. Cruciform in shape and with a three metre span to allow total immersion baptism, it is a beautiful green patinated bronze vessel with a Purbeck Freestone plinth and brown patinated bronze grating. The Salisbury Font has been specifically designed to combine both movement and stillness, with living streams of water flowing from its four corners whilst a perfectly smooth, still surface of water reflects the surrounding architecture of the cathedral.
June Osborne is overwhelmed by Pye’s creation. “This new font is a masterpiece. Now we see it in its permanent position in the middle of our magnificent medieval cathedral, it is even more beautiful than we could have imagined. It is so right for the building, a real 21st century treasure, both contemporary and timeless. It is deeply significant that it will be formally dedicated for us and used for its true purpose of baptism for the first time by the Archbishop of Canterbury when he leads our worship on 28th September during our 750th anniversary weekend. We are indebted to Sir Christopher and Lady Benson and The Jerusalem Trust for their huge generosity in funding what is also a major piece of art for our Cathedral.”
Canon Treasurer, Mark Bonney, who is responsible for the Fabric of the Cathedral, said “For the first time in almost 200 years the place where baptism is administered will reflect the importance which we as Christians attach to it. Its location near the entrance to the cathedral is a very powerful symbol, reminding us of our own journey through life, of pilgrimage and discipleship. The words which have been engraved on the four curves of the font are taken from the new baptism and confirmation services which the Bishop of Salisbury, Dr David Stancliffe, was instrumental in creating and are therefore of particular significance to us all. Taken from Isaiah Chapter 13 verses 1 and 2 they read, ‘Do not fear for I have redeemed you. I have called your name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you. And through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you.”
William Pye is delighted by the role that the piece looks set to play in the history and life of the cathedral. “The Cathedral’s brave move to procure a font with flowing water has meant that I have been able to design a piece which accentuates the beauty of water as a medium to reflect the beauty of the building within which it resides. I hope that it will be seen as something timeless that has been absorbed naturally into the fabric of this great building. The font is the culmination of ten years work and collaboration with the Dean, Chapter and congregation to name but a few. It has been a privilege to design and create a piece which will now form an integral part of this wonderful cathedral and its history.”
Simon Tait, Arts journalist and author, said, “William’s extraordinary water pieces adorn gardens, squares, galleries and great houses but this font is probably his most important piece to date, not just for where it is but for the way he uses his artist’s eye to make it do the job it does. It’s a very beautiful church piece.”
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PRESS INFORMATION AND Q&A SHEET
1. How long did it take to create the font?
Ten years total from the initiation of the project by the then Canon Treasurer and now Dean of Salisbury, The Very Revd June Osborne. Nine years of proposals, meetings and trial installations; one year of manufacture.
2. Why is it so special?
Because although its primary use is as a font suitable for full immersion baptism, it is also a significant piece of contemporary sculpture in an iconic religious setting and becomes an integral part of one of the most glorious buildings in Britain. It is one of the largest pieces of modern art to be installed within a medieval cathedral.
3. When will it be consecrated and first used for baptism?
The font will be consecrated by the Archbishop of Canterbury, The Most Revd Dr Rowan Williams before he baptises two infants during the Cathedral’s celebratory 750th anniversary service on Sunday 28 September.
4. What is it made from?
Green patinated bronze vessel, stainless steel tank, Purbeck Freestone plinth, brown patinated bronze grating.
5. How big is it and how much water does it use?
It is 3 metres wide and uses approximately 3000 litres (approx 1300 in the font plus 1700 in the reservoir)..
6. How heavy is it? The bronze vessel is about half a ton before the water goes in, approximately 1.8 tonnes afterwards! If you include the underground resevoir and the stone plinth the total weight rises to over 3.5 tonnes.
7. How long does it take to fill?
Approximately 50 minutes – the water is then continually re-circulated.
8. How much electricity does it use?
In the same way that the cathedral’s new lighting system was designed to be energy efficient and substantially reduce consumption, the new font is also designed to be energy efficient. We estimate that the amount of electricity it uses per day is equivalent to boiling three kettles.
9. How has it been funded?
Salisbury Cathedral is deeply indebted to Sir Christopher and Lady Jo Benson and The Jerusalem Trust for their huge generosity in funding the full cost of this major new treasure.
10. How many different tasks and groups of people have been involved in making it happen?
• Planning meetings with the Cathedral
• Numerous meetings with other advisory
committees • Sketch proposals – drawing, text drafting, photography
• Loans of pieces to the Cathedral over the Easter periods during previous decade
• Finalised design and maquette fabrication and submission
• Bronze casting and fabrication
• Stone masonry
• Mechanical and electrical works • Excavation / archaeology
• Lifting and moving
William Pye adds “These different activities have called for the various skills and experience of clergy and cathedral staff as well as the support of a large number of colleagues and friends.”
11. What has been involved in the font’s installation in the cathedral during the past few weeks?
Font assembly fitting and fixing, levelling, waxing and painting, water testing, stone masons, bronze grating fitting and fixing, fine tuning and troubleshooting, commissioning.
12. What happened to the old font? Is it still there?
The existing ‘temporary’ font is a fixed stone Victorian font which is located in the Morning Chapel at the side of the cathedral. It has continued to be used on occasion for private baptismal services.
13. Is it true that an old font from Salisbury Cathedral is now in a church in Australia?
Yes it is. The 17th century white alabaster font which used to be in Salisbury Cathedral was acquired by the tiny country church of Christchurch in the township of Yankalilla, 50 miles south of Adelaide in South Australia, in 1870. It is still there.
14. What other major additions to the fabric of English cathedrals have there been in recent years?
The two most significant additions are:
• The font in Portsmouth Cathedral
• The new altar at Lichfield Cathedral
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