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Plastered fonts

During the closing address of the 'Archaeology of the Reformation' conference, in February 2001, the distinguished church archaeologist Warwick Rodwell suggested that fonts may often have been plastered at the Reformation to hide their religious imagery. He pointed out that fonts often contain the only remaining three-dimensional medieval imagery in a church, and it would be very surprising if some action had not been taken to remove it: plastering is cheap, quick and neat.

He also mentioned that he had sometimes seen the remains of plaster (or lime and hair) in the crevices of font carvings, where the restorers had not completely scrubbed it clean.

As pointed out on page 96, many fonts visited by Dowsing have been damaged, though not (apparently) by him. If Warwick Rodwell's hypothesis is correct, then they will have been knocked about a bit in the 1540s or 1560s, then plastered over, with the imagery invisible to Dowsing. Later the plaster was removed, revealing the damage.

This would also explain why some fonts in churches visited by Dowsing have undamaged imagery today - it would have been invisible to Dowsing, because covered by plaster.

Plastering of fonts is discussed briefly on page 97, with an attempt at a list of known plastered fonts on page 445. What is new about Warwick's hypothesis is the suggestion that plastering was common in the 1500s, and also that evidence may still remain today.

I would be delighted to hear of physical (or, indeed, documentary) evidence of font plastering, including any slight remains still to be found hidden in crevices. To contact me, use the 'contact+comment' button to the left.


Trevor Cooper 17 Feb 2001


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