Bath Abbey

Bath Abbey is an architectural beauty and the last in a series of monastic churches built in Bath. The current building dates from 1499 and it is now an active parish church.

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History of Bath Abbey

In 675 AD, King Osric granted the Abbess Berta land near Bath for the establishment of a convent. The women's religious house later became a monastery under the patronage of the Bishop of Worcester.

In 781, the powerful King Offa of Mercia successfully wrested the monastery at Bath from the bishop and built a new monastic church dedicated to St. Peter. In 957, King Edwy described the new Bath monastery as "marvelously built."

Edwy's brother Edgar supported Bath monastery's revival upon his accession in 959 and encouraged the monks to adopt the Benedictine Rule.

On the death of William the Conqueror in 1088, Bath was ravaged in the struggle for power between his sons. The victor, William Rufus, granted the city to a royal physician, John of Tours. John became Bishop of Wells and Abbot of Bath in 1088. In 1090, John of Tours became the first Bishop of Bath and St. Peter's was raised to cathedral status.

John of Tours then planned a new cathedral on a grand scale, dedicated to Saints Peter and Paul. When finished it was about 330 feet (100 meters) long. Only the ambulatory was complete when he died in 1122. The half-finished cathedral was devastated by fire in 1137, but work continued and it was completed by about 1156.

In 1244 Bath and Wells shared cathedral status and Roger of Salisbury became the first bishop. However, later bishops preferred Wells, whose canons had successfully petitioned the pope to regain cathedral status, and Bath Cathedral gradually fell into disrepair.

When Oliver King, Bishop of Bath and Wells, visited Bath in 1499 he was shocked to find the church in ruins. He took a year to consider what to do about it. In October 1500 he wrote to the Prior of Bath to explain that a large amount of the priory income would be dedicated to rebuilding the cathedral.

Work probably began the following spring. Bishop King planned a smaller church, covering only the area of the Norman nave. He did not live to see the result and the new cathedral was completed just a few years before the dissolution of the monasteries by King Henry VIII in 1539.

In January 1539 Prior Holloway surrendered Bath Priory to the Crown. The church was stripped of lead, iron and glass and left to rot, but iIt was rescued a generation later by the citizens of Bath. From 1574 to 1611 Queen Elizabeth Ipromoted the restoration of the still-ruined Abbey to serve as the grand parish church of Bath.

During the 1860s major restoration work was carried out by Sir Gilbert Scott. This included the nave roof being returned to its original glory of stone carved fan vaulting based on the original vault designed by William and Robert Vertue.

What to See at Bath Abbey

Originally a Norman church built on even earlier foundations, Bath Abbey was later transformed into a Gothic fantasy of flying buttresses with crocketed pinnacles decorating a crenelated and pierced parapet. The style of architecture employed is Perpendicular (English late-Gothic).

Look for the miter, olive tree, and crown motif on the west front, a play on the name of the building's founder, Bishop Oliver King. The Latin exhortation across the doors reads, "Behold how it is good and pleasing."

The interior is famed for its fine fan vaulting designed by Robert and William Vertue, who contributed a similar vault to the Henry VII Chapel at Westminster Abbey. The current vaulting is a reconstruction (c.1860) by George Gilbert Scott based on the original design.

The former cathedral contains 52 windows that occupy 80 percent of the walls, including the large east windows that depict 56 scenes in the life of Christ.

"Tower Tours," guided tours of about 45 minutes, offer the chance to go behind the scenes of the Abbey and enjoy some magnificent views. On the way up, you get to visit the ringing chamber and bell chamber, stand on top of the Abbey's vaulted ceiling, and even sit behind the clock face. And the roof is the best vantage point in Bath, providing spectacular views of the beautiful city and countryside. There are 212 steps to the top of the Tower arranged in two spiral staircases with an opportunity to rest in between.

Quick Facts on Bath Abbey

Site Information
Names:Bath Abbey
Country:England
Categories:cathedrals; abbeys; England's Thousand Best Churches: Four Stars
Faiths:Anglicanism
Styles:Gothic
Dates:c.1500-35
Status: active
Visitor and Contact Information
Coordinates:51.381518° N, 2.359003° W
Address:13 Kingston Buildings
Bath, England
BA1 1LT
Phone:01225/422462
Email:office@bathabbey.org
Website:www.bathabbey.org
Hours:Abbey: Apr-Oct Mon-Sat 9am-6pm; Nov-Mar Mon-Sat 9am-4:30pm; year-round Sun 1-2:30pm and 4:30-5:30pm
Tower Tours: Mon-Sat at 11am, 12pm, 2pm all year; on the hour 10-5 in summer
Lodging:View hotels near Bath Abbey
Note: This information was accurate when first published and we do our best to keep it updated, but details such as opening hours and prices can change without notice. To avoid disappointment, please check with the site directly before making a special trip.

References

  1. Personal visits (October 2, 2005 and November 8, 2007).
  2. Personal correspondence with Bath Abbey official, September 3, 2012.
  3. Bath Abbey – official website
  4. Bath AbbeyFrommer's England
  5. Bath AbbeyFodor's England
  6. Bath AbbeyCatholic Encyclopedia

More Information

Glimpse of Bath Abbey from alongside the Roman Baths. © Holly Hayes
View of Bath Abbey from south on a rainy day. © Holly Hayes
The beautiful stone of Bath Abbey glows at sunset. © Holly Hayes
West facade. © Holly Hayes
Gothic nave of Bath Abbey. © Holly Hayes
Flags and fan vaulting in the south aisle. © Holly Hayes
Stained glass window of the Adoration of the Magi. © Holly Hayes
The great organ. © Holly Hayes
Romanesque sculpture in the Heritage Vaults. © Holly Hayes

Map of Bath Abbey

Below is a location map and aerial view of Bath Abbey. Using the buttons on the left (or the wheel on your mouse), you can zoom in for a closer look, or zoom out to get your bearings. To move around, click and drag the map with your mouse.