The ancient church and its miraculous natural spring
Along the road from Padula to Sala Consilina, there is a strange little house made of both bricks and rough stones. On the outside there are some arches, ruins of a former structure, some buttresses, and even a tiny empty arch on the roof, probably intended to house a bell. Not a small house then, but a small church. Once inside, its nature is revealed: in the centre there is a baptismal font and an altar a little further back. That is the Baptistery of San Giovanni in Fonte.
Why it is special
On the outside of the baptistery is another peculiar element: a gutter that brings out clear, fresh water from the inside. Peculiar, certainly, but this is not the real surprising thing. Normally, a baptismal font is artificially filled, but not this one: it is filled directly from a natural spring. This explains why the altar is so high: sometimes the water level rose too high, and the altar had to be protected by elevating it. Quite logical, isn't it?
Not to be missed
The reflections of water inside the baptistery, along with the few remaining frescoes on its walls, create an enchanted atmosphere. But it is worth going back outside to encounter the traces of an even more distant past: inscriptions indicating the presence of Roman tombs have been found on the church walls and in the surrounding ground.
A bit of history
The presence of Roman tombs testify to the existence of a pagan temple before the construction of the church. The baptistery dates back to the 4th century AD and is one of the oldest existing baptisteries. It received its current name from the Benedictine monks who were very active in the area around the Middle Ages. In later times a chapel was attached to the baptistery, which bears traces of Byzantine frescoes, although much of the decoration was detached and taken to the Certosa di Padula.
Good to know
If the presence of a natural baptismal font is surprising, even more so is its behaviour at a precise time of the year. It seems that for many years, and always on Easter night (a favourite time for baptisms) the font would swell with water, far exceeding its usual level, as if responding to the call of ritual. A miracle that attracted pilgrims from all over the area.