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Finding Faith: A sacred vessel with a surprising origin

Baptistère de saint Louis
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This baptismal font of French kings was made by Muslim craftsmen.

A series that looks at the visual arts for signs of the universal Church in sometimes unexpected places.

To celebrate the baptism of Our Lord, here is a detail from one of Europe’s most important royal vessels. Now in the Louvre, it was the baptismal font of French kings, last used in 1856 for the christening of Emperor Napoleon III’s only son. Its arrival in France is a mystery, but according to the inscriptions in Arabic it was made by Muhammad ibn al-Zayn and intended for carrying food. It was probably created in Syria during the 14th century. We will probably never know who commissioned it, but in those distant days there was considerable dialogue between the West and the Middle East. Many European nobles commissioned precious inlaid metalwork from Muslim craftsmen. Even objects as sacred as baptismal basins were ordered from the Islamic world, although this item appears to have started life with a culinary purpose.

baptismal font detail; st louis
Image provided by Lucien de Guise
Detail of baptismal font of French kings, held in the Louvre

Lucien de Guise is on Instagram @crossxcultural. As a Catholic writer, editor, curator and former museum director, his aim is to build bridges through art.

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