Today’s Bath Abbey

Background

West Front of Bath Abbey
West Front of Bath Abbey

Following on from my last post, today’s Bath Abbey is the 3rd church on the site, following an Anglo Saxon monastic church, and a Norman cathedral.

The Norman cathedral was began by John of Tours, Bishop of Wells in 1088, and completed by Robert of Lewes by the 1160’s.

By the 1300’s, the Bishop’s left Bath and returned the bishopric to Wells, leaving the grand Norman cathedral to the small community of Monks.

It proved too costly for them to maintain, and by the 15th century it was in a state of disrepair.

16th Century

The Organ at Bath Abbey
The Organ at Bath Abbey

The current church was begun after the Bishop of Bath and Wells Oliver King visited Bath in 1499 and was saddened to find the cathedral practically in ruins.

In 1500, he made the decision that some of the Bath priory income would be used to rebuild the cathedral.

Robert and William Vertue were the mason’s commissioned and their design incorporated parts of the Norman church.

It was to be smaller than the current cathedral, covering the area of the Nave and was to include a glorious vaulted ceiling, popular at the time.

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Angels ascending into Heaven, West front

One of the most beautiful and unique features of Bath Abbey is its Ladders of Angels on the West front, thought to be created after a dream that Bishop King had of angels ascending into Heaven.

Robert and William Vertue were also responsible for designing the fine vaulted ceilings, and they were incorporated into the Chancel ceiling.

In my opinion they are some of the most beautiful of any in England. Thanks to Sir George Gilbert Scott in the 19th century, the stone fan vaulting of the Nave was completed to match the fan vaulting over the chancel

Sadly, the early 16th century was a bad time to be building a new Abbey church. By 1539, King Henry VIII had initiated the Dissolution of the Monasteries, and just as the church was complete enough to be used for daily worship, it was surrended to the Crown on the 27th of January, 1539.

The people of Bath were offered the church for 500 marks (ca. £160k) but this offer was turned down. Eventually the church was stripped of its valuable materials and was eventually sold on to Matthew Colthurst after 1542

In 1572, Matthew Colthurst’s son Edmund gave the church to the Mayor and the city of Bath and it began to be used as a Parish church.

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Beautiful Vaulted Ceiling in the Nave

Elizabeth I supported the restoration of the church by supporting a collection to raise money for its repair, with a man called Thomas Bellot put in charge. He was steward to Elizabeth I’s right hand man Lord Burghley, and also the executor of his will.

Lord Burghley visited Bath in the hope that the famous waters would return him to health, and he became interested in the church.

When Lord Burghley died, Bellot enacted a bequest from Burghley’s estate, and also contributed his own money to support the restoration of the Abbey.

17th Century

In 1608, James Montagu was appointed the Bishop of Bath, and during his tenure the roof was repaired, as the lead had been removed in the 16th

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High Altar

century during the Dissolution. The West Doors were given to the Abbey by James Montagu’s brother, Henry, Lord Chief Justice of the King’s Bench, and by 1616 the church you can see today was complete.

Additional Points of Interest

Bath Abbey is well known for its number of monuments, memorials and floor stones, many being memorials for people who fought in War. In fact, there are 617 wall memorials alone! There was one particular monument that caught my interest, due to its grandeur and unusual pose of the effigy.

Tomb of Jane, Wife of Sir William Waller

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Monument to Jane Waller

The tomb of Jane Waller is located on the South side of the Abbey, quite near the High Altar. It is one of the grandest in the Abbey, and depicts Jane lying down with her husband William next to her.

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Lady and Sir Waller

William Waller was a Parliamentary General during the Civil War between 1642 and 1651. He commanded the Parliamentary forces at the Battle of Lansdown in 1643.

Jane (nee Reynell) was his first wife, (he married three times in total) and sadly she died in 1633 after giving birth to William’s child.  As with many women of this time, there is not much about her other than that she was the heiress to the fortune of her father, Sir Richard Reynell of Devon.

What is poignant about this monument is the fact that the plaque to the right is empty, waiting for William to be laid to rest next to his wife, but it wasn’t to be, as he remarried twice and he lived to be 71. He is buried in Tothill Street Chapel, Westminster.

In Summary

Bath Abbey is a gorgeous church with a rich history and is in a beautiful location. Bath itself is stunning, with its Roman bathes, Georgian architecture and is conveniently located near Bristol and Wells, which are worth exploring as well.

If you would like to see more photos of my visit to Bath, please visit my flickr

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Vaulted Ceiling, Nave and Crossing

 

References
Bath Abbey website
Wikipedia – Bath Abbey
Wikipedia – William Waller
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