Journey of the Font.

Coventry Cathedral Font

Karen Font boulder
Photography Karen Parker


There is shadow under this red rock,

(Come in under the shadow of this red rock).

         Lines 24-26

The rock in these lines of the poem “The Waste Land” by T.S. Eliot indicates a place of safety and peace, a place of sanctuary.

The origin of the journey of the stone which was installed as the font at Coventry Cathedral began on a hillside in Hebron, near Bethlehem.  The journey is described in the display in Coventry Cathedral with photographs of the route as it made its way to it’s current position situated in front of the stained glass window, designed by John Piper.

Following the theme of Journeys, the transporting and arrival of the boulder was relevant to the Coventry Research Group, so, led by Eve Fleming, a display was assembled to show the archive information at the Cathedral illustrating the journey to Coventry. Remarkably all costs were met by gifts and waiver of fees by the countries the boulder passed through, or the companies involved in the shipment. The Research group would like to thank Dianne Morris, cathedral archivist, for her assistance.  See previous blogposts Journey of the Font and Journey of the Font 2

Journey With The Waste Land
‘Photography © Francis Ware 2018’

When the stone arrived at Coventry it was unveiled by Henry Sumner aged 7 the son of a carpenter on Thursday 22nd December 1960. At the simple ceremony the Bishop of Coventry, told the story of the Boulder, and the choir sang “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” Standing among the ruins of the destroyed Cathedral the onlookers saw a young lad unveiling and age old boulder from the birth-place of the Prince of Peace.

If there were rock

And also water

And water

A spring

A pool among the rock

lines 347-351

Eliot continues in section V “What the Thunder Said.”

Here is no water but only rock

Rock and no water and the sandy road

The road winding above among the mountains

Which are mountains of rock without water

If there were water we should stop and drink

Amongst the rock one cannot stop or think….

Lines 341-6

Journey With The Waste Land
‘Photography © Francis Ware 2018’

The Font by Basil Spence:

For the font, I first determined to get a simple boulder from Iona, but when I mentioned this to a friend Frankland Dark, who was an architect for some important schemes in the Middle East, he offered to get one from Bethlehem. This he did, through a chain of enthusiastic friends, Moslem, Jewish and Christian, who transported it over both land and sea. This was a wonderful piece of organisation which cost the Cathedral nothing. The boulder is in its natural state, exactly as it was 2,000 years ago. Primitive, simple and eloquent, it stands as a symbol from the Holy Land, with the Baptistry window blazing behind it.

I was anxious that the original patina on the boulder should be kept and that the minimum should be done to convert it into a font. We had already constructed a drain that led into the foundations of the Baptistry window so the boulder had to be bored to connect with this.

I wanted a simple recess carved out of the top to hold the water for Baptism and I suggested that a scallop shell should be our model of the form it should take.

Ralph Beyer is carrying out this idea and the font should be quite unique, echoing perhaps the fundamental primitive feeling that I experienced at Lascaux and Zimbabwe.

From: “Phoenix at Coventry The Building of a Cathedral” by Basil Spence, Geoffrey Bles Ltd 1962

Journey With The Waste Land
‘Photography © Francis Ware 2018’

The exhibition continues in Coventry Cathedral until Thursday 15th November 2018, entrance to the cathedral is FREE.

The John Newling artwork will also be available to see in the Cathedral Chapel of Christ the Servant until Thursday 15th November.

The Journeys with “The Waste Land” exhibition at the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum continues until the 18th November.

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