The octagon Baptismal font


Many Baptismal fonts are octagons.
My Priest taught us why this morning, in Mass.

Seven sides are for each day of Creation. The eighth side is for our life in Christ.


The reason they are octagonal is because the spring-house of the (Pagan) Lateran Palace was octagonal, and became the baptistery once it was donated to the Church. The building is still standing, as are many baptisteries all over Europe that are modeled on its octagonal floor plan.

Until about the eighth or ninth century, one did not get baptized inside a church, because only baptized people were allowed to enter. Each diocese had a baptistery beside the Bishop’s cathedral, where the Bishop himself would baptize the catechumens. The only place you could be baptized in the disocese of Rome was the Lateran baptistery, and only the Pope could do it. Later, as priests were allowed to perform baptisms and the rules about unbaptized people entering the church building were relaxed, baptismal fonts came into fashion, and were frequently octagonal in honor of the Lateran Baptistery in Rome.

Here’s the Wikipedia article on the Lateran Baptistery:


I trust my Priest, who is highly educated in theology rather then Wikipedia.

Evenso, that link depicts the Lateran Baptistery . It does not back your reasoning that octagon Baptismal fonts are merely modelled on that one.


Suit yourself. Your priest’s story is cute, but not based on history.


Back it up with bonefide refs.

You might include early Baptismal fonts too. Those of the Apostolic age, in Jewish times - Jewish christians


And the oldest fonts are found in the catacombs…


Any book on church architecture will mention the origin of the octagonal design of baptisteries. There are tons of octagonal baptisteries across Europe built in imitation of the one in Rome. Here are plenty of examples:

Even long after non-baptized people were allowed to enter churches, the tradition of building free-standing octagonal baptisteries continued. The one in Florence is a good example.

By the way, I have been inside the Lateran Baptistery. If your ever in Rome, it’s worth the visit.


… and were usually shaped like a cross, not an octagon.


There were many shapes, the Cross of them. research it.

‘Any book ‘. Is not a ref.


Here you go:



Whatever the origin of octagonal baptismal fonts in particular, eight is a significant number in Christianity. If 3 is often associated with God, 7 with covenants and completeness, 12 with Israel, and 40 with long periods of time/proving, 8 is the number of renewal, regeneration, and a new creation. So it seems that your priest certainly had this in mind, and the shape is fitting in this way, especially given that baptism is regenerative and the start of our new life as a new creation in Christ.


First one is a thesis for a masters.

The second discusses the architecture in th framework of a project, so where is it backing your claim?


The first one you linked actually does not support your claim that it was pagan in origin.

While Constantine might not have been a Christian when he built it, he built it for Christian use not pagan use.

Though the site was on the edge of the city, the basilica and baptistery that replaced the barracks were perhaps of significance extending beyond the goals of either appeasing the Christian God or functioning to avoid the city center. In its topographical context, the Lateran complex’s location was practical, but also inherently political. Therefore, by Constantine’s patronage, the Lateran complex can be interpreted as imperial and, henceforth, associated with the cultural memory of imperial Rome that set up a context in which the creation of new memories through baptism took place.8

Your second link is irrelevant apart from confirming that Constantine build it.


I’m not sure why there needs to be a debate here. Even if octagonal fonts were based on the Lateran Palace, I see nothing wrong with assigning a new meaning to it. Even though pagans decorated with evergreen branches in their winter rituals, I see nothing wrong with the assigning of the new meaning of everlasting life in Christ at Christmas.

St. Ambrose was cited as describing the octagonal fonts “because on the eighth day, by rising, Christ loosens the bondage of death and receives the dead from their graves” so it’s something that wasn’t just made up overnight.

There’s a lot of different font shapes and symbolism behind them.


He wasnt the only Saint to give that meaning too.


@mrsdizzyd made an excellent point already that Constantine was its patron, but it was otherwise apparently built for Christian use.

This does beyond what was said, but it’s conceivable (and likely) that Christian input went into its design.


Actually, when he gained ownership of the (then ancient) palace by marriage, he reconstructed it before giving it to the Church. The building that would become the baptistery was rebuilt over the foundations of the ancient spring house, which was octagonal. From the first article I quoted:

“Pelliccioni reconstructed the baths and domus from the foundations that now exist underneath the Lateran Baptistery (Fig. I-2). His work also helps complete an understanding of the formal urban relationships among the buildings within the Lateran site as a whole. This is seen in his reconstruction in which the Lateran Basilica and Baptistery are superimposed on a plan of the baths, domus, and imperial guard
barracks (Fig. I-3). Through Pellicioni’s work, scholars can see the transformative affect that the razed buildings had on the creation of the newer ones. Specifically, this is seen in the reuse of the frigidarium pool in the baptistery’s font. It is interesting to consider how the spatial qualities of one building may
inform the design of a subsequent building in the same location at a later date. Thus, the shape of the second-century bath’s frigidarium was retained and embedded within the design of the fourth and fifth century baptistery.”


Andrew, you have lost sight of the original premise. No one is disputing the architecture of the building, or it’s uses.


Yes, Constantine tore down old buildings to make way for new ones. How does this make the new buildings pagan?

It feels like you are just being arguing for the sake of argument.


I was taught something similar. Each side represents a day of Creation. The 7th day, when God rests, ended on Holy Saturday. Then, on Easter Sunday, the 8th day began with God creating something new, Christ’s immortal human body into which He raised Jesus from the dead.

We now live in the 8th day and look forward to our own resurrection into a body like that. Baptism (the dunking kind) reenacts this dying and rising again promise.

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