New Books Network

Fran Altvater talks about the Medieval Pilgrimage, a practice that became central to Christian Europe in the early Middle Ages and evolved into the...

Fran Altvater talks about the Medieval Pilgrimage, a practice that became central to Christian Europe in the early Middle Ages and evolved into the military pilgrimages of the Crusades in the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries. Altvater is a professor of art history at the University of Hartford. Her book, Sacramental Theology and the Decoration of Baptismal Fonts, was published by Cambridge Scholars Publishing in 2017.

Baptismal fonts were necessary to the liturgical life of the medieval Christian. Baptism marked the entrance of the faithful into the right relation, with the Catholic Church representing the main cultural institution of medieval society. In the period between ca. 1050 and ca. 1220, the decoration of the font often had an important function: to underscore the theology of baptism in the context of the sacraments of the Catholic Church. This period witnessed a surge of concern about sacraments. Just as religious thinkers attempted to delineate the sacraments and define their function in sermons and Sentence collections, sculptural programs visualized the teaching of orthodox ideas for the lay audience. This book looks at three areas of primary concern around baptism as a sacrament incarnation, initiation, and the practice of baptism within the institution of the Church and the images that embody that religious discussion. Baptismal fonts have been recognized as part of the stylistic production of the Romanesque period, and their iconography has been generally explored as moral and didactic. Here, the message of these fonts is set within a very specific history of medieval Catholic sacramental theology, connecting erudite thinkers and lay users through their decoration and use.


Michael F. Robinson is professor of history at Hillyer College, University of Hartford. He’s the author of The Coldest Crucible: Arctic Exploration and American Culture (University of Chicago Press, 2006) and The Lost White Tribe: Scientists, Explorers, and the Theory that Changed a Continent (Oxford University Press, 2016). He’s also the host of the podcast Time to Eat the Dogs, a weekly podcast about science, history, and exploration.