Cioffi, Paul L., 1928-2004
As early as 374, there is documented evidence of a Christian community at Fréjus, a Roman establishment in ancient Gaul (now in the Var, Provence). The baptistery adjacent to the Cathedral of Saint-Léonce (Saint Leontius) of Fréjus dates to the 5th C., making it the oldest known construction in Provence and among the oldest in all of France. Between the 5th and 13th centuries, a succession of building programs developed a large complex of ecclesiastical buildings that eventually covered over the ancient baptistery. It was rediscovered in 1925 by Jules Formigé, Inspector of French Historical Monuments. After Formigé studied the new-found building and demonstrated that it had been created specifically for the Christian rite of Baptism, the interior was reconstructed in 1930 according to his conception of the baptistery's original appearance. The baptistery is Merovingian in style. It is a domed octagon built within a square, having four rounded apses and four rectangular niches (similar to approximately contemporary baptisteries in Albenga, Liguria and the Lateran in Rome). On the inside, each apse and niche is framed with a deep arch that rests on columns. The central portion of the floor is marble; terra-cotta mosaics cover the apse and niche floors. The octagonal font is designed for immersion of catechumens. On the south side of the baptistery is a basin built into the floor called a dolium, unique among the remnants of ancient baptisteries in France. It reflects the Ambrosian rite of the Sacrament that called for a foot-washing ceremony to precede Baptism. Surrounding the font eight columns supported a ciborium, or canopy (only one of the original columns survives). Curtains would have been hung from these columns for modesty's sake, since catechumens stripped naked for Baptism to symbolize death to their former lives and rebirth to Life in Christ. Another curtain would have divided the baptistery into separate areas for men and women.
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