Thursday, 8 January 2009

Another Font puzzle

Pater noster, ave maria and crede
Lerne the child it is neede

A mediaeval couplet which appears only to survive carved round the font at St George’s, Bradley (from where Eamon Duffy’s well know study of the Reformation Stripping of the Altars quotes it). A very prosaic rendering might be: it is necessary to teach children the prayers beginning ‘Our Father’ and ‘Hail Mary’ and the statement of faith beginning ‘I believe’. The use of ‘learn’ as a verb for ‘teach’ survives in local culture in the phrase ‘I learned him’. The importance of the three texts is also reflected on an early sixteenth century brass in St Nicolas’, Great Coates promising a hundred days off purgatory: ‘of yo’charitie say a pr’noster ave and cred & ye schall have a C days of p’don’.

Puzzling over the mediaeval paint on the font at St Michael’s, Little Coates has prompted me to puzzle again over this mediaeval verse on the one at St George’s, Bradley. The most recent person whose visit was prompted by Duffy’s book said ‘if that is an ancient font then I’m a dutchman’. I’ve said it is a mediaeval font heavily recut by the Victorians, but I wonder whether this is true. The church was substantially changed in the eighteenth century (with the removal of a side aisle) and reordered then or in the early nineteenth century (with box pews and panelling). We know that disposing of ancient but tumbled down fonts in favour of substantial new neat ones is not uncommon in histories of church restorations. Perhaps a new font was put in then, copying the verse from the old one or even from elsewhere?

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