Title: Flying Baptismal Angels
Flying, or descending baptismal angels served as mobile sculptures and hung from the ceilings of churches, in the areas between altars and pulpits. The angels “came to life” during the Baptism service: by means of a special mechanism located in the attic, they were made to descend before the eyes of the congregation, holding the font in one or both hands. The angels were carved in wood, often in human size, painted and gilded. Their hair and clothes were sculpted as fluttering in the wind while the wings were poised to flap. They started to appear in the middle of the 17th century in north Germany, and peaked in popularity in the 18th century, mainly around Saxony, Pomerania and Prussia, Denmark, Sweden and Norway. Despite the marvel and fascination of these animated angels, they also elicited feelings of discomfort, and sometimes even horror.
They could also be troublesome for the clergy and were therefore removed from church interiors during the second half of the 19th century. In the middle of the 20th century, however, they underwent a small revival and returned to their churches, although mostly in a decorative role. In this article, I examine the Scandinavian flying baptismal angels as a phenomenon: Why did churches get animated angels as baptismal fonts? In what way do the Swedish, Danish and Norwegian angels differ from one another? And what problems did these unconventional and “lively” baptismal angels cause?