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A Lead Font from the 1100s with Zodiac Signs and Labours of the Month

in Saint Augustine's Church, Brookland, in the Romney Marshes

 

Links to all Paradoxplace pages about medieval illustrations of Labours of the Month, Zodiac Signs,

Cardinal Virtues and Sins in Western European churches.

 

Link to more baptismal fonts

 

BACK TO SOUTHERN AND SOUTH WEST ENGLAND

 

 

 

 

Most people who have driven around the Romney Marshes in Kent will remember going past a farmy looking church with a strange detached octagonal pyramid bell tower.  The present church of Saint Augustine at Brookland dates from about 1250, with much of what is there today (including the all wooden tower) dating from this time (with the later addition of boxed in pews with doors - to be found in other Romney Marsh churches as well). 

 

No-one knows the provenance of the 1100s lead font shown below, or how it arrived at the church, but it is now pretty much one of a kind in Britain.  If you are in Northern France, it has a close (but not identical) cousin at Saint-Ιvroult-de-Montfort (between Rouen and Le Mans).

 

The Romney Marshes (often including the churches) were a centre of excellence for smuggling for centuries, romanticized in the thrice filmed novel "Dr Syn" (originaly a book written in 1915 about a fictional 1700s ex-pirate smuggler vicar of nearby Dymchurch, who went around disguised in a grotesque scarecrow mask).  After Napoleon was finally despatched, the British Government started taking revenue avoidance seriously and set up the Coast Blockade.  The problem they faced was not trivial!  For example, on February 11 1812 the Coast Blockaders engaged a large armed smuggling party of around 60 people in a running battle that became known as the Battle of (the otherwise unknown) Brookland. 

 

 

This beautiful lead font is said to be the best of the 30 or so lead fonts still to be found in British churches.  It is probably the only font in England to feature Zodiac signs and monthly labours.  One other font (at Burnham Deepdale in Norfolk), which is made of stone, has a set of labours but no Zodiacs.

 

The top band of reliefs show the signs of the Zodiac, whilst the arcades underneath contain representations of a typical activity for each month.

 

Eight of the Zodiac signs are repeated, giving two bands of 20 images each.  Presumably the figures came from some sort of standard template or stamp, because the images for the repeated months (Aries to Scorpio) look to be exact copies.  Maybe there was a small medieval factory stamping these out by the dozen, with the number of repeats depending on each font size (so maybe they were even bought by the yard)!  Young Sherlock Einstein only worked all this out long after the photos were taken, so there is no knowing which cycle the images shown here come from (nor does it matter).

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sagittarius

Capricorn

Aquarius

Pisces

Aries

The Archer

The Sea Goat

The Water Carrier

The Fish

The Ram

November 23 – December 21

December 22 - January 20

January 21 – February 18

February 19 – March 20

March 21– April 20

Knocking down acorns for swine-feed

Killing a pig (aka braining a swine with the reverse side of an axe)

Two faced Janus (old and new years) feasting

Foot warming in front of a fire

Pruning

 

 

 

 

Pisces

Aries

Taurus

Gemini

Cancer

The Fish

The Ram

The Bull

The Twins

The (quaint) Crab

February 19 – March 20

March 21– April 20

April 21 – May 21

May 22 - June 21

June 22– July 22

Foot warming in front of a fire

Pruning

(Venus) Goddess of Fertility

Hawking

Scything

 

 

 

 

Gemini

Cancer

Leo

Virgo

Libra

The Twins

The (quaint) Crab

The Lion

The Virgin

The Scales

May 22 - June 21

June 22– July 22

July 23 – August 23

August 24 – September 22

September 23 – October 23

Hawking

Scything

Haymaking

Cutting corn with a sickle

Threshing (and stripped to the waist)

 

 

 

 

 

Virgo

Libra

Scorpio

Sagittarius

The Virgin

The Scales

The (froggy) Scorpion

The Archer

August 24 – September 22

September 23 – October 23

October 24 – November 22

November 23 – December 21

Cutting corn with a sickle

Threshing (and stripped to the waist)

Treading Grapes

Knocking down acorns for feed

 

 

Link to more baptismal fonts in Paradoxplace

 

Link to Baptisteria Sacra - an index of baptismal fonts (with photos) from early Christian days to the 1600s

 

 

 

 

This fragment of a wall painting of the murder in nearby Canterbury of a kneeling Saint Thomas (Becket) was discovered in the mid 1960s.  It was probably originally painted in the early 1200s (Becket was murdered on 29 December 1170).  English churches were full of Becket murder paintings, and there were plenty in  France and Italy as well - in fact the story of the Archbishop murdered at the behest of the mighty Plantagenet King was possibly second only to the life of Saint Francis of Assisi (1182 - 1226 (44) as a pan European non-biblical non-morality medieval painted theme.  The English wall paintings would have been whitewashed over in the wake of Henry VIII, though of course sadly all paintings in English churches were to go the same way over time (and like at St Augustine's, many are still waiting to be rediscovered).

 

Medieval Images of the Saint Thomas Becket Story

 

Link to Limoges Becket Reliquary Boxes

 

 

For other Paradoxplace links visit the home page

 

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All original material © Adrian Fletcher 2000-2014 - The contents may not be hotlinked, or reproduced without permission