Baptism. One of the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church, and one of the two major sacraments recognised by the Anglican Church. It is a process by which an individual becomes a Christian, through the symbolic administration of water. Central to the life of a Medieval parish, images of it taking place can be seen on seven sacrament fonts.
Many religions throughout history have used water as a symbol of initiation. In the Christian faith, water symbolizes a washing away of Original Sin, and a new beginning. Christ was himself baptised in the Gospels, an act seen as symbolic of the start of his ministry.
For Catholics and most Anglicans, infant baptism is the means by which a child enters into the family of the church. A few evangelical Anglican congregations, Christ Church at Lowestoft, for instance, frown on infant baptism, preferring adult baptism as a sign of conversion.
The liturgy of baptism takes place at the font, either as a separate service, or, increasingly, as part of the regular Sunday congregational worship. In an Anglican ceremony, usually holy water alone is administered, while a Catholic ceremony also uses holy oil, a lighted candle and a white garment. Some Anglo-catholic churches use this Catholic rite. Baptism is colloquially referred to as 'Christening' by many English people, although in fact this is just one small part of the rite.
All the major Christian churches in Britain, with the exception of some of those in the Baptist tradition, recognise baptism celebrated in each others' churches as equally valid. The only proviso is that it must have been administered in the name of the Holy Trinity. Technically speaking, any Christian can baptise another person, although canon law in both Anglican and Catholic Churches requires that it should be done by an ordained minister or priest where this is possible.