Site of Medieval Baptismal Font Discovered in Germany

Archaeologists working in Quedlinburg have uncovered the remains of a baptism font from the 10th century. It is very likely the place where various members of the ruling Ottonian Dynasty received the sacrament of baptism.

Quedlinburg, located in central Germany, was a key town in the Middle Ages, especially during the 10th and 11th centuries when the Ottonian Dynasty ruled the Holy Roman Empire. During current archaeological investigations in the crypt of the collegiate church known as the Stiftsberg, the location of a baptismal font was identified, offering the oldest evidence of a quatrefoil-shaped baptismal font north of the Alps.


In the western area of the crypt of the Quedlinburg Collegiate Church, archaeological investigations uncovered a quatrefoil cut into the sandstone in the central axis of the room, about half a metre deep and two metres wide. As a result of joint investigations by archaeology, building research, art history and restoration science using up-to-date documentation and analysis methods, the feature was identified as the location of a baptismal font. The walls of the depression, which was created in the 10th century before the crypt was built, were elaborately lined with pieces of plaster from a previous floor. This bedding held a baptismal font, which has not survived but was presumably made of high-quality material. Later, but also in the 10th century, the base was increased in height for reasons that are still unknown.

The baptismal font site from the 10th century. Photo by Andrea Hörentrup / State Office for Heritage Management and Archeology Saxony-Anhalt

The fact that this finding is the oldest evidence of a quatrefoil-shaped baptismal font north of the Alps is of great importance in terms of art and architectural history. In addition, its location is also crucial for the reconstruction of the architectural history of the buildings on the Stiftsberg. The room in which the baptismal font originally stood must have been the laity room of a sacred building. There is no evidence that a palatium (prestigious residential building) existed at the site in this period. The baptismal font belonged to a church and also dates from the oldest decades of the Stiftsberg’s medieval history in the Ottonian period, about which little is known so far.


Places and dates of death of members of the ruling families are mentioned frequently in contemporary written sources but information on baptism has not survived. This means that the present archaeological find is extremely rare material evidence of the Christian sacrament of baptism.

According to the Roman-Germanic pontifical in the 10th century baptisms happened once a year, on the day before Easter Sunday, as a collective baptism of infants or small children by immersion. The candidates for baptism were immersed in the water in the shape of a cross, in the present case in the direction of the quatrefoils, with their heads facing first to the east, then to the north and finally to the south. The baptismal formula “I baptize you in the name of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit” was spoken. The ceremony was carried out in candlelight accompanied by incense as well as liturgical songs and litanies. A few days later, on the Saturday before White Sunday (Second Sunday of Easter), the baptismal garment was finally removed and the water was drained from the font.

It is possible that Duke Henry I of Bavaria (born around 922, died 955), who attempted to kill his brother, Otto the Great in an attack in Quedlinburg at Easter in 941, was baptized at the uncovered location. Mathilde (born 955, died 999), the daughter of Emperor Otto the Great and Empress Adelheid and the first abbess of Quedlinburg Abbey, as well as Adelheid I (born 977; died 1044 in Quedlinburg), the next abbess and daughter of the imperial couple Otto II and the Byzantine Theophanu, could have been baptized here as well.

The lead coffin of Abbess Mathilde (born early 955; died February 7/8, 999). The only daughter of Emperor Otto I and his wife Adelheid was the first abbess of the women’s monastery in Quedlinburg and was baptized there in the archaeologically documented basin. Photo by Karsten Böhm / State Office for Heritage Management and Archeology Saxony-Anhalt

“There is a lot that makes the UNESCO World Heritage city of Quedlinburg unique, now there is another unique feature with the newly uncovered baptismal font site from the 10th century,” said Rainer Robra, Minister of Culture and Head of the State Chancellery of Saxony-Anhalt. “My recognition and thanks go to all those who contributed to this extraordinary success”.


The collegiate church dedicated to St. Servatius and the castle on the Stiftsberg, as well as the old town over which they rise, have been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1994 due to the historical significance and the high-ranking architectural heritage of the city.

While today’s collegiate church is a more recent building from the 11th/12th century, the building structure in the crypt, the center for Henry’s memoria (memory of the dead), partly dates back to the 10th century. Completely unique is the so-called Confessio, a horseshoe-shaped and originally vaulted, recessed room from around 962/964 at the east end of the crypt, which was presumably used to store important relics in the immediate vicinity of the royal couple Henry I (died 936) and Mathilde (died 961).

The effort to secure, preserve, research and document the architectural substance, the world-famous cathedral treasure and the archaeological structures preserved in the underground on the Stiftsberg connects the World Heritage City of Quedlinburg, the Evangelical Congregation of Quedlinburg and the State Office for Heritage Management and Archaeology Saxony-Anhalt (LDA) in a long-standing, close and constructive collaboration.

View of the Stiftsberg in Quedlinburg. Photo by Juraj Lipták / / State Office for Heritage Management and Archeology Saxony-Anhalt

With the rediscovery of the baptismal font site from the 10th century, thanks to joint research in the areas of building research and archeology, it has now been possible to open a window into the period of the earliest building activities on the Stiftsberg and of the historical figures most important to it.

Top Image: View into the crypt towards the royal burial grounds. The location of the 10th-century baptismal font can be seen in the foreground. Photo by Andrea Hörentrup / State Office for Heritage Management and Archeology Saxony-Anhalt