This is an example of a Norman tub font, and quite a few have survived in churches to this day. St Mary’s Chadwell has a similar though less impressive example of arcade decoration. One theory (which was either told me by a church guide, or in a printed guide leaflet) is that it consists of stacked “baptismal tubs”; whereas the Kent Churches website claims it is carved from a single block. But most sources including the parish website agree that it consists of several stone blocks (22 is a figure often quoted). Whichever is correct, it is agreed that it is made of Caen stone, carved with intersecting and interlocking patterns.
The Church of St Martin is an ancient Church of England parish church in Canterbury, England, situated slightly beyond the city centre. It is recognised as the oldest church building in Britain still in use as a church, and the oldest parish church in the English-speaking world, although Roman and Celtic churches had existed for centuries. The church is, along with Canterbury Cathedral and St Augustine’s Abbey, part of a World Heritage Site. . . . St Martin’s was the private chapel of Queen Bertha of Kent (died in or after 601) before Saint Augustine of Canterbury arrived from Rome in 597. Queen Bertha was a Christian Frankish princess who arrived in England with her chaplain, Bishop Liudhard. Her pagan husband, King Æthelberht of Kent, facilitated her in continuing to practise her religion by renovating a Romano-British building (ca. AD 580). The Venerable Bede says the building had been in use in the late Roman period but had fallen into disuse. As Bede specifically names it, this church was dedicated to Saint Martin of Tours, a city located near where Bertha grew up. Although Bede implies that the building in Roman times had been a church, modern scholarship has questioned this and also whether it was a former Roman structure at all, suggesting that it could have been sixth century but built in the Roman way.
Historically, this is the most important church in Kent. St Martin’s is the building in which Queen Bertha and St Augustine worshipped together in the closing years of the sixth century, making it the oldest parish church in England that is still in use. Furthermore it is built of large quantities of Roman tile mixed with local flint and ragstone. The exterior shows typical Saxon buttresses and long and short work, but there are no Saxon window openings still in use. However, the west wall inside has been stripped of plaster which allows us to see very early blocked windows. Apart from the great age of the walls there is little of visual interest – with a fourteenth-century tower at the west end and a rather severe atmosphere resulting from the drastic nineteenth-century restoration that saw the insertion of dreadful ‘catalogue’ stained glass. Were it not for the early history of this church the font would be its outstanding feature. It is of Norman date and is carved from a large block of Caen stone. Tall, solid, and eminently decorative it has intersecting circlets in two lower levels, and arcading of Romanesque arches above, topped by a rim of rolling swags.
The gem of the Church and one of the gems of England is this world-famous Font, tub-shaped, consisting of a plain stone base, three tiers, and a rim. The base is a recent addition to the font, probably in the middle of the last century, when the font was moved to its present position from the centre of the Nave. The three tiers are made up of some 22 separate stones, and not out of a single block as was usual with early fonts. The two lower tiers are adorned with groups of intertwining circles. The third tier is completely different, namely intersecting arches. The rim is the same design as the two lower tiers with the exception of one stone which has a pattern not unlike dog-tooth work or stars cut in half. The two lower tiers and the rim are said to be Saxon, and the Normans requiring a higher font inserted the arches to raise same, and in so doing broke the rim, and added the one odd stone to make it complete. The lead lining is also of Norman date and still retains the marks of the hinge and staple from the days when the font had a locked cover.