Florality & bouncing

Consider, if thou wilt, gentle reader, the Baptistry I was designing with my coffee this morning. It is in the form of an octagonal glasshouse, or conservatory, seventy feet wide, with the baptismal font at the “epicentre,” within the floral pavilion. The rim of the font is at ground level, surrounded by a sunken circle of flagstones; the eight roughly triangular flowerbeds thus tilt inward towards this, gently down. There are four footpaths, intersecting upon the flagstones, dividing the flowerbeds into pairs; these paths themselves descend in gentle steps. Directly above that central font, a small “Pantheonic” hole cuts through the glass roof, through which a dove might fly. (Little rain will spray through, as the Pantheon architects in Rome knew; and excess heat may rise through the hole, as through a chimney.)

The whole structure, upon a stone foundation barely proud of the ground, is itself fairly low, so not to compete with the height of the parish church it is out front of, or with its Giotto-esque, externally-tiled bell tower (an earlier project). As my Baptistry is filled with flowers, not trees, it need not be extravagantly high. From the church tower it appears to be the face of a spreading kaleidoscope; yet from the grain fields, it is often invisible.

But the sun glints upon the angles, as it moves across the sky, making it a sundial, that can be read sideways.

I have added what I think a lovely, curved glass, fern-escorted tunnel, extending the key footpath to the porch of that church. Along it, the faithful may pass warmly towards the font, when snow is falling at Easter. Too, the matching passages, extending in the other three cardinal directions, inscribing a crucifix. The intention is to emphasize the quadrilateral, within the octagonal, as if they were the channels of a charbagh, or Persian garden.

My planting scheme, for the flowerbeds, is too complex to describe. Suffice, that as I tour it in my mind’s eye, my attention rests on hyacinth; on columbine, cyclamen, lady’s bed-straw; on lily-of-the-valley. There is a string of pale carnations, representing the Rosary, and towards an outer point of the glasshouse, a tiny isolated patch of hyssop.

Nor will I get into my novelty of irrigation, in capillaries detained or fed by small pools, from which eye-resting grasses and rushes are growing. Or the sprinkle of stones through the flowerbeds, on which the church gardener may knowingly step. Frankly, I think that I have tried to pack too much into my composition.


The jackhammerers on my building have been replaced by what sound to be fencing giants, clanking immense metal pipes incessantly together. Still no new balconies have appeared on Castle Maynard, after four months, but the shelves surviving from the old ones are looking somewhat neater.

I find that designing ecclesiastical buildings with my coffee — or later, with my tea — is the antidote to interminable urban reconstruction. Let me pretend that I am working through one of the noisier phases in my own (imaginary) projects. This seems an appropriate form of raw idleness, and supplies me with my own sacred architecture, at a time when real churches are closed to me.

But there are idle alternatives. A diligent, Mass-attending friend with nine children was just told by his priest that he, his wife, and they — with their collective allergy to muzzles — are now permanently banned from the old forms of Christian sacrifice. The new Batflu worship demands bold excommunications, such as the Catholic Church never had the guts to apply, even to monsters of heresy such as Trudeau or Biden.

An idler, too, at heart — gentleman, scholar — my friend came up with something else to occupy his fanciful moments. He wonders how many times that priest would bounce, if he kicked him as hard as he wanted to.


UPDATE. In the revision of my Baptistry design, late last night when I couldn’t sleep, I deleted the “curved-glass, fern escorted” tunnel, leading from glasshouse to the porch of my parish church. This looked too much like clutter. Instead, I placed a twenty-four foot open square, between the two portals, that congregants will simply have to walk across, even when it is snowing. (Of course the lads will have swept it clear.) It struck me that Canadians, for instance, should be robust enough to endure our winter cold, for about five Roman paces.

Having erased that, I slept soundly.