I have been doing a lot to photography of churches over the last few years both where I live in Suffolk and also in Wiltshire. I am not at all a religious person but these buildings in addition to being places of worship are museums of village life and national history.
Most of them are open during the day and so you are able to freely explore their architectural and cultural treasures and artworks. There are all sorts of stories to discover about village life through the centuries. I started thinking about the oldest objects that I had found – there are medieval wall paintings, 14th century fragments of stained glass windows, historic carved wooden pews, Norman period door archways with their characteristic chevron pattern, but what is the oldest?
It think it must be the baptismal font in the village church at Potterne, Wiltshire, England.
This dates from the 9th century – two centuries or so or so before the Norman conquest.
It is the only surviving pre-Conquest inscribed font in Britain.
The rim inscription is in Latin:
SICVT CERVVS DESIDERAT AD FONTES AQVARVM [:] ITA DESIDERAT ANIMA MEA AD TE D(EV)S : AMEN
In English “As the hart panteth after the fountains of water; so my soul panteth after thee, O God. Amen.”
The story of a hart ( deer) drinking from a fountain or pool of water goes back to very early christianity and is a theme depicted in Roman mosaics.