Tuesday, January 11, 2011

LDS Temple Baptismal Font Styles

Salt Lake Temple font
I thought I'd use today's post to discuss LDS temple baptismal fonts.  These are used for baptisms for the dead where people can be baptized in behalf of the dead who didn't get a chance to accept the gospel of Jesus Christ in this life.  In this way the dead have the option of accepting baptism.  It is up to them if they want to accept the work and join Christ's church or to reject the baptism and stay as they are.

Temple baptismal fonts come in a variety of styles.








St. Louis Missouri Temple font
Fonts can have one or two entrances.  Most have you enter and exit at the same place (for example: Draper, Jordan River, London, San Diego).  Some have an entrance and separate exit.  This is actually how the first ones were.  The Nauvoo Temple was the first with a baptismal font and has an entrance and exit.  You enter the font on one end and then exit on the other (180 degrees from the entrance).  I looked through my font photos and only noticed these two variations.  I think a good variation would be to have a font with an entrance and an exit offset 90 degrees (Las Vegas might be this way, but I can't remember for sure).  Otherwise I really like the normal entrance and exit style, mainly because it isn't used as often.




Billings Montana Temple font
Font also vary in by what is on top of the oxen.  Fonts like the one in the Salt Lake Temple have seating around the bottom and the oxen are only supporting the actual font.  Others like the one in the Jordan River temple have seating behind the font at an upper level so the oxen only support the actual font.  Then there are fonts like the ones in the Bountiful Temple and Boston Massachusetts Temple where there is seating on top of the fonts - usually two rows of pews.  I have fond memories of sitting on top of the Bountiful Temple font reading scriptures while baptisms are performed feet away.  It really is a nice setup.



Mesa Arizona Temple font
Font materials vary quite a bit. Originally the Nauvoo font was made of wood.  Later it was upgraded.  Many temple have brass, bronze, or other metal oxen (Salt Lake, Hamilton New Zealand, Los Angeles).  The Mesa Arizona Temple uses terra cotta tile.  Most are made of fiberglass made to look like stone (and a few may actually be stone.)






Accra Ghana Temple font
Finally, the oxen used to support LDS temple fonts have been done in many different ways.  Some have just the heads and two front legs sculpted.  In this case the oxen are typically made to appear as if coming out of reeds.  Other temples have the entire oxen sculpted.  When the entire oxen are present they come in several styles.  Sometimes they face 12 directions (so each is rotated 30 degrees from the previous).  A lot of times the oxen are facing 4 directions with 3 oxen facing each direction.  This follows the pattern of Numbers 2 where three tribes camped on each direction of the Tabernacle.  It also looks nice.  Sometimes oxen are also placed in an ellipse facing 12 directions.



Idaho Falls Temple font
The style of oxen also varies with some being vary realistic, most fairly realistic, and the Idaho Falls Temple oxen being very stylized (Art Deco).  I like the variety and even like the Idaho Falls Temple oxen for their uniqueness.  I would be interested to see a new style of oxen.  Some possibilities would be to have them be low relief sculptures, mosaics, stained glass, or painted on (although moisture could cause problems if they are painted).  I think these ideas would help make a temple unique.  I also wouldn't mind seeing a modern interpretation of oxen (the Idaho Falls Temple oxen are the only bold interpretation of temple oxen I've ever seen).

Seoul South Korea Temple font
Not every temple has been built with oxen supporting the font.  A blog reader informed me that the Santiago Chile Temple and some Pacific Island temples were originally built without oxen.  The oxen symbolize the 12 tribes of Israel and are traditional, but not necessary.  They are borrowed from the Temple of Solomon where twelve oxen supported the brazen sea.  The fact that the Tabernacle had the sea without oxen shows that they are optional.  I've read that some small temples were built with 6 oxen and mirrors to make the other 6 appear to be there.  This is an interesting way to save money.  I prefer to see 12 oxen supporting baptismal fonts, but find the exceptions to this interesting.  I know the church has added oxen to many, if not all, of the temples originally built without oxen.  If you know of any currently without oxen, please let us know in the comments.

Bern Switzerland Temple font
Finally, the baptistery rooms show variation.  I think the most interesting ones have full wall murals (Mesa Arizona Temple, Manhattan New York Temple, Copenhagen Denmark Temple).  Some have murals running along a border at the top of the room (Helsinki Finland Temple, Cardston Alberta Canada Temple).  Several have stained glass windows.  Others simply have pictures hanging.  A few don't have any pictures or murals.  When these rooms are ornately decorated enough this works, but a few are really plain and could really use improvements.  Art in baptisteries includes several common themes.  The most common depiction is the baptism of Jesus.  Other good scenes for temple baptisteries are the Jordan River, the restoration of the Aaronic Priesthood, and the baptism of Joseph Smith.  I think there is a lot of potential for font room art that hasn't yet been realized.

current Logan Temple font
original Logan Temple font













One baptistery that really disappoints me is the Logan Temple baptistery.  Originally it had an ornate font (which the church still owns).  For reasons unknown to anyone but the architect who didn't understand history or aesthetics, the original font was removed when the temple was gutted and it was replaced with a near replica of the Ogden, Provo, and Jordan River Temple fonts.  The style itself isn't bad, but it is a significant downgrade from the original font and clashes with the temple exterior design.  The church really should place the original Logan Temple font back in the temple instead of letting it sit in a museum.  Of course the church should really re-gut the Logan Temple and restore the original beauty and bring back the original door knobs, stained glass, molding, etc. which the church still has.  If the Nauvoo Temple can be rebuilt, then the Logan Temple should be able to be restored.  I guess that's a topic for another post.  Perhaps soon.

LDS temple baptisteries have a great deal of variety that continues to expand.  Please comment about baptisteries you've been to or what you'd like to see in temple baptisteries.

28 comments:

Travis Brinton said...

Thanks; very nice summary. I have one corrections: The "brasen sea" in Solomon's Temple was indeed a baptismal font. The OT only says it was used for "washings," but baptism is a form of ritual washing. What other form of washing would require the font to be 5 cubits deep and 10 cubits wide? Also see the chapter heading to 1 Kings 7 in the LDS edition of the scriptures (http://lds.org/scriptures/ot/1-kgs/7?lang=eng).

Brett said...

The Atlanta, Sydney and all the Pacific Temples were built with just a standard meetinghouse font. In the Sydney Temple it was located in a small room up the front of the Temple. This has now been replaced with a traditional one at the back of the Temple in an extension completed in the 90's under the main level of the Temple.

Brett said...

Also the Sydney Temple new baptistry has a large granite window...it is beautiful. The room has a warm golden glow to it because of the light streaming through. Also the dome holding the chandalier above the font has a blue sky with clouds painted on it...I used to think they were moving when I was doing Baptisms as a teenager.

The set up was two doors either side of a window wall...in front of that were 4 rows of 4 wooden pews facing the font. To the right was the clothes area...the confirmation room was next to that. Either side of the Font had the change rooms...girls to the right boys to the left. There was a drain running the length of the room between these doors where you had to stand and drip off...very very cold. And there were only two showers so often you would have to wait in a dripping cold and wet jumpsuit.

Bert said...

Any pictures or details about the font which used to be in the tabernacle? I believe it was accessed on the west end, where the choir offices are now.

Scott said...

Bert,
I don't have any pictures of it, although I did go to a baptism there years ago. As I recall it was just like a normal chapel font (although I was 8 or 9 at the time so my memory might be bad)

Jon said...

Travis, it definitely depends on what you mean by baptism. If you mean baptism as in simply "immersion." Then you may be right; all kinds of wasihngs were performed in the temple. But there is no evidence that the washings performed functioned as LDS/Christian baptisms, or even resembled them in any way other than the fact that they took place in a large area of water.

Scott said...

Jon is correct in that there is not conclusive evidence that the brazen sea was used for baptisms. Certainly the chapter heading and institute manual assume that baptisms were done; however, those are not doctrine and are heavily influenced by Bruce R. McConkie, who was often wrong. Certainly baptisms for the dead were not performed there. Certainly washings that weren't baptisms were performed in the temple. It is possible that baptisms were performed in the ancient temple and it is possible that they were not. If the font was used for baptisms then it brings up questions about why Jesus wasn't baptized in the temple, and why we aren't today. That doesn't mean it wasn't used for that, it just means that we don't know.

Jon said...

By the time second temple judaism rolled around, baptisms were not unheard of (see John the Baptist), but the fact that they were done in Rivers, etc, suggests that they had a different significance than washings done in the temple basin.

Don said...

I do think it's nicer to have a font with oxen, but we shouldn't think that they're necessary. Brett mentions several temples that, at least originally, didn't have this architectural feature. And it is just that--a design feature. It isn't necessary to the ordinance.

It's just like the way people seem to think that a temple isn't a temple without a spire, or without a Moroni statue. Or the way people think that facing mirrors are a requirement for sealing rooms. Or the way they think that the temple must face east (even though Joseph Smith had the Nauvoo Temple built facing west). These are nice features, but they don't make a temple any more or less of a temple by being present or being absent.

Scott said...

Don, I agree. I actually think it is nice to build temples that don't follow all the traditional patterns (oxen, sun moon and star stones, a spire, an Angel Moroni statue, facing mirrors in sealing rooms). This makes temples unique and interesting. In recent years the church has given more control to architectural firms instead of the church building committee in an attempt to get more unique and interesting temples. I like that.

At the same time, I think there should be creative solutions to temple design and that temples should always be finely crafted and inspiring, even if non-traditional.

Also, we do need to recognize that some temples (particularly in the 80s) were built very simply for budget reasons with the intent for them to be updated later. This was the case with many, if not all, of the no oxen fonts. During the original dedications the church stated that they would eventually be updated with new fonts. For this reason, we shouldn't get too upset that renovations destroy history, because sometimes they were planned from the beginning.

I also like temples without Angel Moroni statues for their history and because the spires tend to be more unique because there isn't a statue to distract you from a plain spire.

Don said...

I've always loved the baptistry in the Idaho Falls Temple. The newer temples have never shown that kind of boldness or modernity in design.

Scott said...

I also really like the boldness of the Idaho Falls Temple baptistery and its modernity. Occasionally I am surprised to find something truly unique in a temple so I hope there are other really unique fonts out there. For instance, the Mesa Arizona font is covered in decorative terra cotta tile, the only font I know of that uses that decoration.

One of my favorite baptisteries is in the Las Vegas Temple where the room is diamond shaped with two walls of windows, and the room is done in nice desert pinks and reds including two faux stone columns. The layout is modern and interesting. I think the font itself is a typical style. Idaho Falls is the only temple with stylized oxen as far as I am aware.

Anonymous said...

I have a friend that said he did baptisims for the dead in Idaho Falls, when he was a kid. He said there were gargoyles at the cornners of the font. I never heard of such a thing is that true?

Scott said...

They aren't there in any of my pictures. I'm guessing he meant the sculpted oxen supporting the font (which you can see in the picture accompanying this post). I've never heard of gargoyles in any Mormon temple, and gargoyles are supposed to be exterior (usually they are decorative rain gutter spouts in churches).

Anonymous said...

One interesting bit of trivia about the font in the Vernal Utah Temple. The font was on display in the South Visitors Center on Temple Square for years. The Salt Lake Temple model is now in the same location. Just a fun little fact there.

Lisle Brown said...

I have enjoyed the blog on temple fonts. I am interested in the symbolism of the temple fonts and would like to know if you have any information on their geometric shape. I see in pictures that fonts are designed in ovid, circular, and multi-sided aspects. I have found pictures in Church publications that show 12-sided fonts are quite common in newer temples. Do you have any photos that show fonts with 8-sides? I found one in a Church lesson manual but the temple was not identified.

Scott said...

as far as geometric shapes, the two most common are octagons and a dodecagons (12 sided). The octogons use 8 as a symbol of baptism you have to be 8 years old before you can be baptized. 12 is used to represent the twelve tribes of Israel (the oxen are borrowed from Solomon's Temple and Herod's Temple where they represented the 12 tribes). So in the temple the number 12 represents the dead becoming a part of the House of Israel through baptism.

El Oso said...

The shape of the first temple font in Nauvoo is oval, which is possibly a reference to the Vesica Piscis (or Mandorla). This shape was important to early Christianity because of its inference of the fish, the whale that Jonah was "reborn" from, and the vulva. Since we are reborn from the font (see Jesus conversation with Nicodemus) this is perhaps the most relevant shape that a temple font can take.

Anonymous said...

I've been to the Manti and Salt Lake Temple. The Manti has the murals on the walls and is really pretty,and gold/bronze oxen.I liked the Salt lake Temple because the font has the opening and the exit as two separate things. But I have to say the Manti is my favorite.

Anonymous said...

I'm curious about the golden oxen in the SL Temple. Are they gold plated? And the font bowl also?

I have a book of the SL Temple in which they appear luxuriously golden, and years ago I did baptisms for the dead in the SL temple, but I don't remember!

Do you know what they are covered with?

cdiddy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
cdiddy said...

My Grandfather sculpted the oxen for the Idaho Falls Temple. I have several pictures of my Grandfather working on the this Font and there are no Gargoyles in any of the pictures.
As a side note, my Grandfather sculpted several Baptismal Fonts for the Church and the Oxen for the Idaho Falls were his favorite.

Scott said...

The Salt Lake Temple baptismal font has bronze colored oxen with gold paint on the horns, hooves, and I think eyes. It is just a gold paint and probably contains little if any actual gold. The bowl in painted white and the inner part of the font is stainless steel. I think I know the photo you are referencing and it is a black and what photo that has been colorized and so it doesn't match the actual font.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Scott said...

I am removing the post from Anonymous. It is untrue (you can see photos of the Holy of Holies in my post on it) and had insinuations that were clearly false. Also, all caps implies that you are yelling, which is not in keeping with civil nature of this blog. The Holy of Holies is a room where the prophet may go to pray to God the Father and his son Jesus Christ and where they may appear to him.

Janice said...

Janice says:
The oxen in the Cardston Alberta Temple font were sculpted by Torleif Knaphus who later sculpted the oxen for the Idaho Falls Temple. So, Scott, other fonts have stylized oxen. I have a source who quotes Torleif as stating that "My all-time favorite font creation is at the Cardston Temple." He also worked on the fonts and oxen in Laie, Hawaii; Mesa, Arizona; and Oakland, California. What an amazing sculptor!

Anonymous said...

I recently heard the Nauvoo font was large to accommodate 3 simultaneous baptisms. Comments?

Anonymous said...

I have a couple of comments: First, the Oquirrh Mountain baptistry is very unique. It is surrounded by glass walls, which allows other patrons to see into the baptistry without disrupting the proceedings. Second, I visited the Atlanta temple a number of years ago and was told that the baptistry was originally towards the front of the temple, but not at a lower level due to encountering shallow bedrock. President Hinckley promised it would be rebuilt properly and it was several years later when the baptistry addition was made to the back of the temple. Third, regarding the way the oxen face, sometimes while it appears that they face 12 different directions, they are actually arranged in sets of three with the center one facing a cardinal direction and each ox to its side with its head slightly turned to face the same direction as the set.