Tag: baptistry

Dolphin and Anchor

DSCN4637 (2)The anchor-and-dolphin design shown on the side of the baptismal font and embedded in the mosaic floor of the old baptistery (today’s Adoration Chapel), is a surprisingly complicated symbol.

The two parts of the design are often read as two separate pictures, then combined. The 1960 SFDS Parish Monthly Bulletin offered a typical explanation of the anchor, connecting it with water and hope: “Hope was represented…by the anchor which the sailor drops into the water, so that it may go down deep into the bottom of the sea and fix itself firmly in order to steady the ship and hold it secure against the winds and waves of any storm. But our hope is an anchor which we throw upward, into the skies of heaven…” Philip Kosloski, at Aleteia, more recently discussed the dolphin symbol, observing that in the ancient world, dolphins “were known as the ‘sailor’s friend’ and there are many legends of dolphins leading mariners to safer shores…” He suggested that over time, “dolphins became a symbol of Jesus Christ, a friend and deliverer to the ‘safer shores’ of heaven.” He then addressed the combined symbol of “dolphins… twisted around an anchor or trident…” which symbolize” the hope of eternal life…”

Rather than a picture symbol, the original meaning could actually have been language-based.  Charles Kennedy puzzled long ago in Biblical Archeology Review, that anchor designs were common on graves in Christian catacombs until the third century, but then they disappeared. Around the same time, the main language of Christians switched from Greek to Latin. Kennedy suggested that “Ankura,” (Greek for “anchor”), could have been a pun on the Greek phrase “en kurio” (“in the Lord”) — so that with the symbol of an anchor, “the dead are sealed with the name of the Lord.” When the language changed, the pun didn’t work anymore and the symbol was abandoned for a time.

As to dolphins – Aristotle called them “fishes,” and his basic classification scheme remained in use in Europe until the 1800s. ICTHYS, Greek for fish, was used in catacombs as an acronym for the Greek phrase “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.” So, a fish on an anchor in the catacombs could have been a simple linguistic symbol meaning that someone was protected “In the Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.”

 Whatever its origin, the combined symbol of the dolphin and anchor was not much used until the Renaissance, when printer Aldus Manutius, who printed books for the influential Medici popes, adopted a dolphin-and-anchor representation of Neptune as his printer’s emblem – but that’s a whole ‘nother story for another day!



Door Number Three

sfds statue now (2)

As you enter the church vestibule through the recently-re-opened main doors, look to your right, and you’ll see a former interior doorway (note the transom window above it) transformed into a golden shrine to St. Francis de Sales – and, incidentally, to the spirit of Vatican II!

The statue appears to be the one donated to the parish by Timothy J. Wholey in 1920. For its first  forty-five years, it stood proudly in the sanctuary at the front of the church, beside the St. Joseph altar, overseeing countless richly choreographed solemn high masses.

By 1965, Vatican II and changing tastes dictated that venerable ornate churches were “fussy” and “old-fashioned.” Our parish celebrated its 75th Diamond Jubilee Anniversary that year with a modern streamlined blue-tiled-wall redecoration of the main part of the church (four years before the Venturi neon lights!). Parishes were also urged to “clear the clutter” in the sanctuary, so freestanding statues including our patron saint were banished.

Meanwhile, as rituals simplified, architectural usage adjusted. The Baptistry, the small room at the back of the church where baptismal ceremonies were held (today’s Adoration Chapel), was designed with three doors: an entrance from outdoors; a door from the vestibule; and a door leading into the main church. In old tradition, the first part of a baptism, which involved an exorcism, was supposed to take place outside the church, or symbolically in the church vestibule, before formal admittance into the Baptistry. When the ceremony changed, the vestibule door became superfluous.

The doorway space did turn out to be a convenient place to relocate the statue of St. Francis de Sales. Its modern shrine would also brighten the parish entrance and make it more welcoming. The family of Eugene F. White, a longtime parishioner who had died in 1962  (his family ran the J.J. White Funeral Home at 4700 and later 4701 Springfield), funded the construction as a memorial. Its trendy gold colored tiles and white marble base were slipped in with the other work, and casually mentioned in a single sentence in the Monthly Bulletin related to the Jubilee renovations.

Now, fifty years later, with the main doors of the church and vestibule re-opened after the latest phase of our 125th Anniversary restoration, we can welcome our patron saint’s statue out of  construction dust into another new chapter of our parish history!