The Tournai Font
By John Mackinlay
We were having a natter, my daughter and I, at the bus stop – the one beside the lych gate, where the path leads up to the church. The sun was shining, the daffodils were fading, but the daisies and the wild flowers were appearing all over the place; everything looked great, it was just the sort of day you wish people to come and see our village. And sure enough at that moment a group of visitors approached, each one earnestly clutching a green coloured guidebook.
“What are you looking for?” we asked, “the Tournai font” they replied.
“The Tournai what?” whispered my university educated daughter. “Font!” I said. “Sounds a bit Belgian – I didn’t know we had a new font”.
“Not new, we got it about 850 years ago, and as a matter of fact you were baptised in it.”
It used to be said that to be a true East Meoner you had to have fallen in the river, I mean completely in – so that you had to go home to change. But perhaps being christened in the Tournai font would make a better test. After all any wedding guest or casual visitor leaving the pub might fall completely into the river, but you need to have been connected to the village from birth to be christened here. And the problem is that when you are being christened you tend not to remember much about the details of the font – or anything at all really.
At a modest rate of twenty or so christenings a year, since 1150 there must have been about seventeen to twenty thousand babies christened in our Tournai font, and if you are one of them I suggest you come back and take a look at it. It’s a truly remarkable stone. It was carved from the hardest blue-black marble from the banks of the river Scheldt by the local sculptors of Tournai in Flanders for a grandson of William the Conqueror who was then the lord of the manor in East Meon Court House. When it was finished it was transported by rafts and sailing boats across the Channel and along the south coast of England and finished its journey to East Meon on an ox cart.
Because it was carved in Tournai, not Hampshire, and almost 500 years before Gallileo got into to trouble with the Inquisition, it presents a strange and barely recognisable version of the world.