Doubt cast on age of church font

The Lawrence Anglican church's font, which was believed to be 1000 years old, is, according to a...
The Lawrence Anglican church's font, which was believed to be 1000 years old, is, according to a specialist in medieval art, likely to be less than 200 years old. Photo by Stephen Jaquiery.
The font that Southern Anglicans for years have believed was a Norman relic is likely to be less than 200 years old, a specialist in medieval art says.

The only art historian in the country who studies medieval art, Dr Judith Collard, of Otago University, has cast doubt on the Anglican Diocese's belief that its font at the Church of the Holy Trinity in Lawrence could be 1000 years old and of Norman origin.

Earlier this month, the church said it was looking for a new home for the font, which had a special place in the history of the Anglican Church in the South, following the deconsecration of the church.

It said the font was brought to Dunedin from England and it believed it had previously come to England from France, though it had never had the font's age verified.

Dr Collard, who is a senior lecturer in art history and theory in the department of history and art history at the University of Otago, read the story in the Otago Daily Times and contacted the paper.

She said there were several reasons she believed the font from the decommissioned church was more likely a 19th or 20th century font rather than one that first made its way to England at the time of the Norman conquest of England (1066) as the church believed.

''It's a great story,'' she said.

''I don't want to completely dismiss it, but ... the font is too clean, the lettering is wrong, the lid looks potentially as if it could be 17th century, so the font could have been recycled and tidied up.

''The whole bottom portion looks wrong - basically none of it looks right.''

The font would appear more weathered and its lettering would likely have had serifs and the letters would have been ''more rounded'', not square, if it were the age it was claimed to be, she said.

Dr Collard said the font could possibly have been carved in the arts and crafts movement of the late 19th century - when ''artists looked back nostalgically to the past''.

If the font were Norman it would be an important artefact for the church.

''A Norman font, if it really was a Norman font, would be quite the thing,'' she said.

Diocese spokeswoman Emma Neas, of Dunedin, said the diocese was interested in researching the origin of the font further.

The church declined to say more in the meantime.

hamish.maclean@odt.co.nz

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