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The fonts of many Christian denominations are for baptisms using a non-immersive method, such as aspersion (sprinkling) or affusion (pouring). The simplest of these fonts has a pedestal (about 5 feet (1.5 m) tall) with a holder for a basin of water. The materials vary greatly consisting of carved and sculpted stone marble, wood, or metal.
Fonts are often placed at or near the entrance to a church's nave to remind believers of their baptism as they enter the church to pray, since the rite of baptism served as their initiation into the Church. In many churches of the Middle Ages and Renaissance there was a special chapel or even a separate building for housing the baptismal fonts, called a baptistery. Both fonts and baptisteries were often octagonal (eight-sided), octagonal fonts becoming more common from the 13th century and the rule from the 14th century. Saint Ambrose wrote that fonts and baptisteries were octagonal "because on the eighth day,[a] by rising, Christ loosens the bondage of death and receives the dead from their graves". Saint Augustine similarly described the eighth day as "everlasting... hallowed by the resurrection of Christ".
The quantity of water is usually small (about 1.5 litres (3.2 US pt)). There are some fonts where water pumps, a natural spring, or gravity keeps the water moving to mimic the moving waters of a stream. This visual and audible image communicates a "living waters" aspect of baptism. Some church bodies use special holy water while others will use water straight out of the tap to fill the font. A special silver vessel called a ewer can be used to fill the font.
In certain regions of England, a common historic type of font design can be identified. In South East England the "Aylesbury font" can be seen in several churches in Buckinghamshire and the surrounding area. These fonts, which date from the late 12th Century around the years 1170 to 1190, are typically chalice-shaped, ornately carved around the rim with fluting below, and are considered fine examples of English Norman architecture. They are named after the font found in the Church of St Mary the Virgin, Aylesbury. Other identifiable types include the Early English "table-top" font, also found in Buckinghamshire; the "Bodmin font" in Cornwall, the "Seven Sacrament fonts" in East Anglia; and "Chalice fonts" in Herefordshire.