Family Lessons 54: Stow's Pagan Font

I called at Stow Minster in Lincolnshire this summer. Not only is it a wonderful example of Saxon, Norman and Early English architecture, but it is where my 4x Great-grandfather, John Cammack, was baptised in 1788 and presumably, a great many Cammacks before him.  

For people interested in architecture and history, Stow Minster is a veritable theme park for which no pricey tickets or endless queues discourage calling. The thirteenth-century font, in which Grandpop John was sprinkled, has upon it a number of strange, carved decorations, including a pentangle and a ‘green man’. These, and the others, are not Christian symbols, with the possible exception of a dragon curled about its base, which might represent that old serpent, the devil. Even this is a little far-fetched; I suspect the dragon is just as pagan a symbol as all the others.

How this paganised object managed to evade the attentions of reformer and puritan I cannot tell, but it certainly shows how medieval Christianity absorbed, accommodated and adjusted to the pre-Christian culture it sought to replace. I do not know how far back the Cammack family dwelt in those parts. Whether John’s father, also a John, moved there from further afield, or whether his was an ancient family connection, the records do not state. Certainly, it is an old Lincolnshire name, with various dignitaries of Lincoln and Stamford bearing it before the civil wars. This old relic might have played a long-standing role in welcoming my family's procreative exploits.

We will always be children of our time, geography and culture, shaped and moulded by experience and up-bringing. Yet we who are Christians should be on our guard against the pervasive influence of our pre-Christian ways. Ancient Israelites were forever battling against the theology and practices of the Canaanites which infected their national life. Or they did not battle- that was the problem. So let us be in the world, but not of the world. Grandfather Cammack could hardly object to the font in which he was baptised, but he could certainly have chosen to live for Christ and not be like the spiritually dead among whom he dwelt.

“When the Lord your God cuts off from before you the nations which you go to dispossess, and you displace them and dwell in their land, take heed to yourself that you are not ensnared to follow them, after they are destroyed from before you, and that you do not inquire after their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods? I also will do likewise.’ You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way; for every abomination to the Lord which He hates they have done to their gods; for they burn even their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods. Deuteronomy 12:29-31, New King James Version