Notre Dame hosts lecture - Site and Rite: Where Archaeology and Theology Converge

Document Type

Media Release

Publication Date

Winter 24-8-2009

Publisher Name

The University of Notre Dame, Fremantle Campus

Publication Place



A rare opportunity was given to staff, students and members of the wider community when Holy Cross Father Richard Rutherford gave a presentation on Site and Rite: Where Archaeology and Theology Converge at The University of Notre Dame Australia’s Fremantle Campus.

Fr Rutherford is a professor of theology and pastoral liturgy at the University of Portland in Oregon. He has studied the Christian funeral and bereavement process for over 30 years.

Notre Dame’s Campus Minister, Mr Tom Gannon, reports…

“In his presentation, Fr Richard, took us on a virtual journey exploring early Christian baptisteries in Late Antique Asia Minor (present-day Turkey). With the extant 4th century baptistery on the Greek island of Paros as point of departure and early Byzantine sites in Turkey as examples, this slide lecture explored how early Christian Initiation (Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Eucharist) - the rite - and the Baptistery - the site - illustrate the value of a dialogue between Archaeology & Theology.

We ‘visited’ Ephesus with its baptisteries at two sites; the basilicas of St Mary (site of the Council of Ephesus in 431 AD) and St John, the site revered among ancient pilgrims as the burial place of St John the Evangelist.

Next we travelled to Xanthus with its early Byzantine basilica and baptistery with large oval-shaped font, unique due to the dividing wall separating two equal u-shaped sections. The next stop was the Roman garrison town of Anemurium, selected for our dialogue because of the presence of a baptistery in its cemetery church, leading to the question, “Why a baptistery in a cemetery?”

Our final two sites were pilgrimage shrines: the popular burial place of St Thecla, putative friend of St Paul, where a precious tri-lobed font in white marble once adorned the baptistery at the shrine, and the remote Alahan in the foothills of the Taurus Mountains (once believed to be a monastery) with its superb cruciform font sculpted piece by piece from heavy local stone.

The exploration concluded that both Theology and Archaeology are mutually enriched. Such things as size of baptisteries and fonts as well as relationship of space highlighted the importance of Baptism in the early Christianity.”

Associate Dean and lecturer in Archaeology and History, Dr Shane Burke, said that it was a privilege to experience the first-hand knowledge of Father Rutherford’s Byzantine work.

“The students that attended the presentation were thrilled by the research and the methodological approach taken by Father Richard. It was great to see the students relate their teaching to real life situations.

Media contact: Michelle Ebbs 08 9433 0610, 0408 959 138