Font bowl from NW.

Image of the feature "V. Furnishings: 1. Fonts: Font" at Eardisley.

by Ron Baxter.

This is in the SW corner of the nave. It is made up of two blocks of local sandstone and is cup-shaped. The round bowl rests on a splayed base and a circular plinth with two steps but this last is not contemporary with the font. The rim of the bowl is carved with an interlace formed by three double-stranded bands and the necking has cable moulding. Between these two are two scenes carved with great vigour. A pair of armed men amid curling stalks without leaves are engaged in fierce combat. Both men have shoulder-length hair, long, thin moustaches and short pointed beards. Their noses are straight and the eyes are disproportionately large and protruding. They wear pointed helmets, quilted garments, including knee-length trousers and pointed shoes. The quilts are vertical on the breasts and trousers but horizontal on the wide belts and sleeves. The warrior on the R thrusts a spear through the thigh of his adversary who is raising a short sword in his R hand, while holding a stalk with the other, as if for support. It may seem strange to find such a secular and aggressive subject on a font but it is by no means unique, for, for instance, on a font at Wansford (Hunts) c.1120, two men with shields and clubs are shown facing each other.

To the R of this scene is the Harrowing of Hell, in which three figures participate. Christ is identified by the cruciform nimbus. He is holding a cross-staff and has the same facial features as the warriors, except that they are shown in profile and Christ full-face. His upper garments are also like those of the men in combat but instead of trousers, he is wearing three or four robes, one reaching his feet while the others are each shorter in succession. In addition to the broad belt, similar to those worn by the warriors, there is, on top of it, yet another, narrow belt, the ends of which hang down in a manner defying the laws of gravity. Christ is represented marching vigorously forward and pulling the hand of the small nimbed figure of Adam, dressed in similar fashion to the men in combat. The legs of Adam are high above the ground as if to convey the impression that he is floating through the air. Above Christ's shoulder, the dove of the Holy Spirit is flying in the same direction in which Christ is leading Adam. To the R of the scene are leafless stalks forming an irregular pattern and entwining Adam's limbs and even further to the R, as if in pursuit, a large lion is carved, presumably symbolizing hell. It has an abundant mane but otherwise the body is smooth and the long tail passes between its hind legs and ends just below the rim. The head of the lion is shown not in profile, as the body, but full-face. Bond claims (Bond, 183) that 'he has one shut and one eye open; therefore any interpretation of the story on that font which makes him a bad beast is mistaken', but his observation is open to doubt, for both eyes look the same. At the extreme L of the scene is a nimbed figure holding a book, its face very much like that of Christ and also the robe is very similar but lacking the belt. Each of the figure's bare feet, like Christ's, have an ankle-bone indicated by a circle, a detail which is almost a hall-mark of the Herefordshire School.

While discussing the Harrowing of Hell panel of the Lincoln Cathedral Frieze, which follows in including the Byzantine tradition the figure of John the Baptist in this scene, Zarnecki suggested that the figure on the Eardisley font is also St John the Baptist (Zarnecki (1988), 66). However in the same year, the late Robert E. Kaske published a paper in which he suggested that the figure on the font is God the Father. He came to the conclusion that Langland, the author of Piers Plowman, who came from the region of the Malvern Hills, must have known the Eardisley font when he summarized the Harrowing of Hell 'in language that emphasizes unmistakably the participation of all three members of the Trinity' (184). Kaske's theory finds some support from another Harrowing of Hell in the county, namely the early 12thc. capital from the apse arch of Hereford Cathedral, where a Hand of God is included, though there is no Holy Ghost (Professor Rosalie Green drew my attention to this capital in this context). The identification of the figure as God the Father is, however, not conclusive. The base of the font is decorated with the horizontally arranged triangular knot also known as Stafford Knot formed by double-stranded bands. A practically identical base both in the shape and the decoration is found on the font at Chaddesley Corbett, Worcs.

The condition of the font is good with the exception of the rim above the Harrowing of Hell, which is broken and crudely repaired. The head of the lion is also damaged.

Date: second quarter of 12thc., probably c.1140.

Dimensions

circ. at bottom of base 1.92m
circ. at top of bowl 2.47m
h. 0.75m