Whats in the Church

Whats inside the church is as interesting as what is outside.  This guide is written with children in mind and is also a useful teaching resource.

FONT

A font is a basin for the Holy water used in a baptism (christening), a ceremony of sprinkling water on a person’s (baby’s) forehead or of totally immersing the person in water. Baptism symbolises purification or regeneration and admission into the Christian church.

The octagonal font at Escomb is at least 800 years old but could be much older. It has been carved out of a single piece of sandstone and may have been part of a Roman fountain. In late Saxon times it was the custom for babies to be totally immersed in the Holy water in the font but earlier than this, adult baptism was the usual ceremony. This could be by total immersion in a place such as the nearby river or by standing in the font, which would have been on the floor in those days.

The water in the font, which was changed once a year, was blessed at the service on Easter Sunday to be used throughout the rest of the year.

In the 13th century, the Archbishop of York ordered that fonts should be locked. This was to prevent people stealing the baptismal water and using it for superstitious practices e.g. to counteract the effects of a neighbour’s curse or a witch’s spell. The problem was what to do with the unused Holy water the following Easter. It could not be thrown away as a witch hiding in the churchyard might catch it to use for spells. It had to stay in Holy ground.

NAVE

The nave is the main part of the church building where people sit for services.

CHANCEL

The chancel is the part of the church containing the altar and seats for the clergy (priests, vicars, ministers) and choir. It is separated from the nave by steps or a screen.

SANCTUARY

The sanctuary is the most sacred part of the church and is where the altar is. Because Escomb Saxon Church was built to a very simple plan, the sanctuary and chancel are the same place, separated from the nave by a step and the chancel arch. The arch is thought to have been re-assembled from a Roman arch, brought with the rest of the stone from Binchester. The original arch was probably much lower, having all the upright stones horizontal. This wouldn’t look right in such a tall building, so the Saxons put alternate stones on end to make it higher. It is a typical Anglo-Saxon arrangement, the first of its type and has been named ‘Escomb Fashion’ after this arch and is still called so by architects today.

ALTAR

The table in the sanctuary in a Christian church at which the bread and wine are consecrated in communion services.

SACRAMENTS

These are the consecrated elements (bread and wine) of the Eucharist. They are used in the service of Holy Communion, commemorating the Last Supper (before Jesus was arrested) in which bread and wine are consecrated (made sacred) and consumed. The bread and wine represent the body and blood of Christ.

LECTERN

The lectern is a reading stand with a sloping top. It is tall enough for people to stand to read lessons from the Bible or to preach a sermon (a talk given by the priest or minister during the service.)

CROSS

A sign signifying the Christian religion.

The stone cross behind the altar is probably older than the church and may have formed part of a preaching cross or grave cover. It is a ‘green cross’ or ‘living cross’ with rose-like flowers growing from it.

CONSECRATION CROSS

There is a ‘consecration cross’ cut into the stonework behind the lectern. We must remember that the stone for Escomb Church came from a Roman fort so when the church was finished, it needed to be consecrated (made sacred as a holy building.) There were originally 5 consecration crosses, the one behind the lectern and one on each corner of the church outside. Now only one of the outside crosses can still be seen.

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