One of the most important, in terms of theology, symbolism, and controversy, of a church is the baptistery. In a Catholic church, this is usually in a side chapel or a separate building on the grounds of the church. I will admit that we did not spend as much time seeking out the baptistries, as we did the other spaces within the churches that we visited. We shall have to correct this over-sight in future travels.
Theologically, the two most sacred spaces in a church are the altar, at which the Eucharist is celebrated, and the baptistery, at which the initiation into the church is celebrated. Ritual washing or bathing has long been a tradition in Jewish and Christian (as well as most religions). Cleansing one’s self before entering the presence of God, or eating a meal, is good sanitation. In the Gospel accounts, this takes several forms, ranging from John the Baptist dunking initiates for repentance in preparation for “the one who comes after me”, to Mary anointing Jesus with perfume before a dinner, to Jesus washing his disciples feet before the Passover seder meal (aka The Last Supper). The ritual of baptism continues this tradition.
Symbolically, at least for us Dunkards (aka Baptists), baptism re-enacts the death and resurrection of Jesus. This is where the concept of being “born again” came from.
However, this raises two controversies: What form should baptism take? and, When should baptism occur? This is not just a Protestant Reformation issue. Even in the time of Paul’s travels in Asia Minor (aka Ephesus), the question arose whether the new Christians were baptized with the Baptism of John (aka of repentance) or of the Holy Spirit. John the Baptist was immersion in water, usually a river or body of water, by tradition (though some suggest that John baptized folks in a desert setting, thus pouring or sprinkling might have been pragmatic… as my friends in California might attest to recently). Baptism by the Holy Spirit, as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, did not appear to involve water at all, but laying on of hands from the elders of the church and the Christian receiving the Holy Spirit, etc. The controversy continued into early church theology because of high infant mortality rates until the recent history of the past century. What happened to babies and children who were not baptized? Well, we know that we Christians have been fighting, with words and swords, over that topic for centuries.
Maybe if we all spent a little more time, from infancy to adulthood, in beautiful spaces, we might spend less time finding fault with each other.