Winchester, UK - Saint Nicholas Font (Winchester Cathedral); Boston, MA - Dorchester

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Title

Winchester, UK - Saint Nicholas Font (Winchester Cathedral); Boston, MA - Dorchester

Catalog Entry

There are many ways to depict innocence in a story. Words used to describe innocence can be “small,” “little,” “young,” etc. These could also be related to a small or young child or a location such as a small town. 

Dorchester is a historic neighborhood located in Boston, MA. It was founded by Puritans in 1630 who emigrated from Dorchester, Dorset, England. It is currently Boston’s largest neighborhood. Dorchester is home to the oldest religious organization in Boston, a church that was originally created as the First Parish Church of Dorchester and still remains today. In addition to this accomplishment, Dorchester is also home to the first and oldest public elementary school in America, the Mather School. The school was created in 1639 and also stands today. Dorchester was founded only a few months before the city of Boston was founded, showing a scale of how important this neighborhood was historically for the growth of America. The neighborhood is rural and is a good depiction of what the setting may have looked like in Chaucer’s The Prioress’ Tale.

The story of The Prioress’s Tale takes place in a small Christian town somewhere in Asia. Children are a reoccurring topic in the story, representing innocence. The focus of the story is of a Christian boy, who is murdered on his way home from school by a group of Jewish boys who were told to do so by Satan himself. The neighborhood of Dorchester, to me, reminds me of these scenes. The schools and churches are small as well as the neighborhood itself. It was a religious town, which resembles the town that the story took place in.

A marble font of Saint Nicholas in Winchester Cathedral is also a good reminder of the story. The Tournai Marble Font was bought from Tournai, in modern Belgium, in the 12th century and is still there today. The block this piece of art was carved from weighed around 1.5 tons and dates back to around 1150. It is the finest of 10 fonts in England. In this time period, sculptures were created as iconic messages to be shared throughout the world. This particular font is decorated with the extraordinary life of Saint Nicolas with symbolic animals such as birds and lions. It is thought to be a gift from Henry of Blois, William the Conquerer’s grandson. Saint Nicholas was known as a man who committed many acts of kindness, especially to children, leading to his identity as Santa Claus. The carvings on the font show multiple stories, but all of them revolve around Saint Nicholas. A few of the stories depict St. Nicholas bringing people back to life. Fonts are mainly used as a symbol of the start of Christian life. They also hold the water for which babies are baptized in. It is still used for baptisms today. This relates to Chaucer’s The Prioress’ Tale due to the fact that Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of children by means of acts of kindness. The fact that he brought people back to life resonates with the story, specifically when the Christian boy who was murdered comes back to life singing the song of the Vigin Mary that caused the boys to murder him in the first place.

Photo: Western Union telegram sent from Dorchester to Fitchburg congratulating a family member on the birth of a child (from Fitchburg Historical Society collection).

Bibliography

“A Brief History of Dorchester.” MyDorchester, mydorchester.org/history.

Taylor, Earl. “Dorchester MA, Town History 1630-1870.” Dorchester Atheneum, www.dorchesteratheneum.org/page.php?id=52.

“Tournai Marble Font.” Winchester Cathedral, www.winchester-cathedral.org.uk/our- heritage/cathedral-treasures/tournai-marble-font/.

Photographer(s)

Kisha G. Tracy

Catalog Entry Author(s)

Mitchell LeBlanc, Student, Fitchburg State University

Accessible Description of Image(s)

First image: There are people etched in stone. The photo is in black and white. The main statues are men, and they are holding a stick-like object in their hands. The etching is on the side of a fountain.
Description by: Courtney Hastings, Student, Fitchburg State University

Citation

“Winchester, UK - Saint Nicholas Font (Winchester Cathedral); Boston, MA - Dorchester,” Transforming Perceptions of Cultural Heritage through Image, accessed August 14, 2018, https://culturalheritagethroughimage.omeka.net/items/show/12.

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