Piscina is a term derived from Latin meaning ‘a reservoir of water’. It referrs to a small space, sometimes built into the wall of a church, located near the altar and used by priests for washing their hands or ceremonial objects, such as chalices and goblets. In Roman times, piscinas would be connected to an aqueduct but later would be simply connected to a nearby drain.
A piscina would typically comprise a shallow stone basin or sink with a drain hole at the bottom and could be built completely recessed into the wall or as a stone receptacle attached to the wall, sometimes with a small recess immediately behind it for storing small objects. In the latter case, the piscina would be supported by a stone pillar rising from the floor.
The earliest appearance piscinas make in the UK is from the middle of the 12th century and even then, their occurrence is rare. They became more prolific however after the 13th century and can usually be found in the chancel of most churches that have not been rebuilt.
In the UK, piscinas in churches from the Gothic period (Early English and Decorated) might sometimes sport two or three basins. They are usually found on the south side of the altar and usually on the south wall.
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