A Visit to Bath Abbey

There has been a church on the site of Bath Abbey for over a thousand years but the present Abbey Church is relatively new by British ecclesiastical standards.  Building started in 1499 but it was not until the early 1600’s that it was completed.  This was due to Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries in 1539 and the Abbey remained as ruins until 1616 when the church was repaired; the last of the great medieval churches to be built. 

 
Tradition states that the Abbey Church was built after the then Bishop of Bath dreamt of angels descending – and ascending – to heaven.  It is this vision that is first seen as you enter the building carved into the stonework either side of the West Front.  The great flying buttresses were added in the mid 1830’s to strengthen the building after cracks appeared in the tower; at the same time the pinnacles were also installed.

In late Victorian times many of Britain’s churches had their interiors radically altered and Bath Abbey was no exception.  Much was removed – the organ and screen were taken away which has created the breath-taking view down the full length of the church to the Great East Window, also fitted at this time.  Many other windows were fitted with stained glass and that of the west window was replaced.
 

 
Perhaps the most striking of all of the church’s features is the stone fan vaulting: that of the nave was also created then to match the earlier ones of the chancel.  It soars to great heights with such delicacy and feeling of light that it is difficult to remember it is of stone – or imagine the many hours of craftsmanship that the stonemason’s must have carried out.
 

 

Carving of an earlier date, 1649, is the tomb of Sir William Waller’s wife, Jane.  Sir William fought against the Royalists in the English Civil War and intended to be buried with her.  He was however buried in London.
 

Much of the information for this post has been gleaned from the Abbey Church’s excellent website and pamphlets.  It is a magnificent building and well worth allowing plenty of time to visit for there is much to see.  It is, of course, in the city centre and adjacent to the ancient Roman Baths and Georgian Pump Rooms; these featured in an earlier post which can be seen by clicking here.

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New Year Resolution: Bath More Often

This is not really a post about washing and personal hygiene although I suppose, in a way, it is.  Where can you sit and watch the steam rising from warm bath water whilst having liveried waiters serve you tea in a highly polished silver tea service along with traditional English afternoon tea of scones and cakes?  Add to this scene, chandeliers and a pianist playing at a grand piano and you could be forgiven that it is fantasy.

But, of course, it isn’t for this is England and is just another example of the crossing of eccentricity, tradition and commercialism to create the Pump Room in the city of Bath.  In the photo below, the Pump Room is in the further building, the nearer one being the entrance to the Roman Baths themselves.

Bath developed soon after the Romans had invaded Britain giving it the name of Aquae Sulis about AD60 although the hot spring had been a sacred place even before then. Over the next three hundred years the waters were gradually enclosed and then abandoned two hundred years after that with the fall of the Roman Empire.


photo: view of the Roman baths from the Pump Room tea rooms

During the eighteenth century the Grand Pump Rooms were built where it was possible to ‘take the waters’.  At this time, the dandy Beau Nash became Master of Ceremonies and made Bath the most fashionable resort in Britain – the future of the Pump Rooms was assured.


Photo: Beau Nash (statue) still presides over the social gatherings in the Pump Room

Today the Pump Rooms are the perfect place to relax and just absorb the genteel atmosphere.  It is very easy to imagine  Catherine Morland visiting here in the hope of meeting Mr Tilney in Jane Austen’s novel Northanger Abbey.  Although the rooms are steeped in tradition they are not an intimidating place to  visit and all are welcome – it isn’t necessary to be wearing formal clothes! They are open every day for lunch and tea or, if you really want to be exclusive, you can book them for your private party in the evenings.


Photo: even the stairway to the cloakrooms has style!

In the YouTube video below, the music is performed by the Pump Room Trio, the longest, continuous playing  ensemble in Europe.  The fountain is shown in the clip where you can try the water yourself for which, I believe, there is no charge even if you don’t stay for tea.

Bath is a fascinating city to visit and a World Heritage Site.  This will be one New Year’s Resolution that will be easy to keep: visit Bath more often.


Photo: The Royal Crescent, Bath


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