We use cookies to improve your experience, some are essential for the operation of this site.

St Martin, Hull, St Martin, Yorkshire, East Riding

(53°44′38″N, 0°23′33″W)
Hull, St Martin
TA 061 287
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Yorkshire, East Riding
now East Riding of Yorkshire
medieval York
now York
  • Rita Wood
03 Apr 2007

Please use this link to cite this page - https://www.crsbi.ac.uk/view-item?i=9110.

Find out how to cite the CRSBI website here.

Feature Sets

Medieval font now at a church built in 1939 at the junction of Anlaby Road and North Road, in the western suburbs of Hull. The font was brought from the ‘dilapidated’ parish church at Nunkeeling (Borthwick Institute, Faculty Book 12, p. 165A). The font is now in the western apse of the nave, in the children’s area, but may be moved to another position.


Nunkeeling church is now a ruin maintained by the council. The church adjoined the nunnery which was founded in 1152 (Pevsner and Neave 1995, 639).





Pevsner & Neave 1995, 510, describe the font as “From Nunkeeling, C13. clustered shaft and round bowl with carved heads.”

The figure and heads have realistic eyes, other facial features and hair in the Gothic manner. They may be compared to the four heads spaced round the base of the font at Burton Fleming, which also has the form of a cup on a stem.

It is interesting to see the later, quite Gothic, carving clearly repeating Romanesque features such as the smiles on the faces and the figures pushing themselves - or ‘rising’ - out of the stone. At Riccall, a twelfth-century voussoir shows a man in this resurgent posture; he is emerging from a tomb or coffin (Wood 2012, 6-8). It signifies resurrection from physical death most often, but is appropriate for baptism also (Colossians 2:12). On the font from Nunkeeling, the woman on the S face spreads her arms in imitation of Christ on the cross: this symbolism is more likely than that she is in an attitude of prayer (orant). Christ is shown with his arms spread as on the Cross in some Ascensions.

Two men’s heads are carved in detail on the N and S faces, but the central figure (E face), and the only one full-length, is a woman. She is not in realistic proportion, nor is her dress elaborated; she is still quite Romanesque in treatment except for the face and hands. Her head-dress appears to have been slightly reworked, perhaps it was done to tidy up a rough surface. Two waves of hair showing on either side of her forehead resemble those of the men. Currently at the church, they call her ‘St Hilda’ but she probably represents any believer renewed by baptism, as do the men, and was intended as a role model. With similar purpose, the Hutton Cranswick font in the Hull and East Riding Museum has two figures, of a man and probably a woman.

Did the nearby nunnery influence the decision to carve a woman as the main feature? The church of Nunkeeling had belonged to the priory from its foundation c.1150 and stood east of the priory church and close to it. The fact that novices prostrate themselves in the form of a cross when they take their vows may be relevant to the attitude of the figure here.

Could twelfth-century sculpture at Nunkeeling have been so advanced? Was it the carving of projecting heads etc which made it impossible to make a more true form for the bowl (which is not badly out of shape, but has been formed ‘by eye’ in the old way)?

The bowl has two heads and one figure projecting from it N, S and E; the fourth cardinal position is blank, presumably this was the ‘back’ when seen or in use. Perhaps a fourth carving was omitted so the priest could stand close against the font on the W side holding the infant and facing the people.


Borthwick Institute, Faculty Book 12.

N. Pevsner & D. Neave, Yorkshire: York and the East Riding, 2nd ed., London 1995.

R. Wood, Romanesque Yorkshire, Leeds 2012.