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Bath Abbey - Architecture and History of Bath Abbey

Bath Abbey Tower from belowStanding right in the heart of the city, the splendour of Bath Abbey glimmers in the sunlight for miles around. The buildings is beautiful inside and out with amazing architectural features for you to enjoy. The site where it stands enshrouds well over twelve hundred years of history. It was neglected for a time and became a ruin, as did many religious buildings in England. Its was restored after Bishop Oliver King had a dream of it. It stood for years until Henry VIII's dissolution ran it into ruin once more. Full restoration took place again for it to become a fabulous Bath tourist attraction, which you can visit.

Architecture of Bath Abbey’s Beautiful Features

Bath Abbey wooden front door carvings historyLooking at West front, you will see intricate carvings of the 3 Montagu brothers’ coats of arms on the wooden doors. The doors were donated by the family, originally created around 1617 and restored in 1947. There are also some unique stone carvings alongside the doors of angels on ladders, climbing up toward heaven.

Inside there are many windows giving you lots of light to see by. This was a technological advance in architecture of its day. Slimmer columns bore much more of the stone walls’ weight. The space created allows you to see the ceiling, adorned with fine fan vaulting. If you follow the ceiling to the crossing in the middle of the church you get a great view.

The largest part of the abbey is the Nave to the West. 1871 saw an upgrade where the seats were added there. East is the choir and alter. The smaller North and South transepts are either side. Also worth checking out when looking up are the ornate chandeliers built in Greek orthodox style.

Today’s abbey was built around 1499 at the end of the Gothic period. The exterior is extensively uniform. It is considered the last perpendicular Gothic style church built in England.

History of Bath Abbey

In 675AD Osric, King of the Anglo-Saxon tribal kingdom of Hwicce, issued a charter for a convent here. There has been Christian worship here in some form since then. Today’s abbey building stands on the site of an 8th century Saxon Abbey of which little is known.

In 973AD the importance of the Abbey grew. Edgar was Prince of the Royal House of Wessex and King of Mercia. He united the kingdoms being crowned King Edgar of England by Dunston, Archbishop of Canterbury here. So this made him the first monarch to rule over all of England.

Not long after the Normans conquest took place the Abbey that was here was demolished. An enormous Norman church replaced it after Bishop John of Tours purchased the city for a mere 60 pounds. Building started on it around 1098. This was interrupted by fire in 1137. It was finally consecrated between 1148AD – 1161AD. The Norman church was so large that the foundations of today’s entire building are the foundations of just its nave.

Neglected it Became a Ruin, Twice

Angels climbing ladders to heaven on the West end of Bath Abbey.The abbey had fallen into ruin by 1499. Around this time Bishop Oliver King instigated a repair. This followed a strange dream he had. The dream depicted a vision of angels climbing to heaven and a voice urged, "…let a King restore the church". King thought this was his calling. On the West Front of the abbey this dream was been depicted in magnificent carvings. Later came the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539. On orders of Henry VIII, the abbey again fell into disrepair.

Restoration to Former Glories

The building was sold and passed on to gentlemen who did not really deal with it. It became the local parish church in 1572, when Edmund Colthurst gave it to the city of Bath. In 1574 Queen Elizabeth I set up a fund for restoration after her visit. Much later between 1612 and 1619 Bishop Montague provided a wooden roof. More restoration then took place by architect George Phillip Manners (1798 – 1866).

Much of this was undone after studies by Sir George Gilbert Scott (13 July 1811 – 27 March 1878) deemed it was not in keeping with the original design. So the magnificent fan vaulting was introduced to the nave ceiling between 1865 and 1872. Sir Thomas Graham Jackson, 1st Baronet of Eagle House (21 December 1835 – 7 November 1924) continued this work between 1899 and 1901.

Today it is fully restored to all its former glory for you. In fact Bath Abbey is now probably the most majestic parish church in England. It is still in use by Christian worshipers. You can also tour the abbey to explore its various, fabulous features.

No State Aid Means an Entry Fee

Bath Abbey from across the River Avon with reflectionThe Abbey itself does not receive any state or any regular financial assistance in maintaining this historic building. So although there is no charge to visit the Abbey, they very much welcome donations of around 2.50 GBP. This is a very small price to pay for the experience of this architectural jewel. There is also a bookshop offering a wide range of books, cards, jewellery as well as tapes and CD's celebrating the music of the choir and organ.

Bibliography:

  • M. Forsyth (2003) Bath, New Haven & London, Yale University Press.
  • Home | Bath Abbey (n.d.) Home | Bath Abbey [Online]. Available at http://www.bathabbey.org/ (Accessed 26 February 2016).
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Bath Abbey - Architecture and History of Bath Abbey - Gallery

Angels climbing ladders to heaven on the West end of Bath Abbey. Image Bath Abbey east window angled with flowers in front Image Bath Abbey from across the River Avon with reflection Image Bath Abbey From the Southwest in the Roman Baths Image Bath Abbey tower and east end from across the river Avon Image Bath Abbey Tower from below Image Bath Abbey wooden front door carvings history Image Eastern End of Bath Abbey Image