Maybe that title is a bit of an exaggeration since Bath Abbey in its current state has only been around since 1499. Only. But there has been a church on the abbey’s premises since 757 AD. Two, actually – first an Anglo Saxon monastery and then a Norman cathedral that fell into ruins until Bishop Oliver King took over its rebuilding in 1499. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Bath Abbey – it’s one of the most famous tourist attractions in Bath, England. It’s also one of the easiest ones to find, located in the center of the city right next to the Roman Baths. Besides being a working church with hundreds of members in attendance, the abbey also sees close to half a million visitors come through its doors every year. (Entrance is free, but they do request a small donation of £2.50 if you’re able.) It’s a magnificent place with special details everywhere, but if it weren’t for the free walking tour we went on in Bath, I wouldn’t have a clue what any of it meant.
From the Abbey Church Yard, the large courtyard in Bath where everyone tends to congregate, you will be looking directly at the west front of Bath Abbey. You’ll see the heavy, decorated doors to the abbey with a large stone statue of Jesus Christ looking down from above them. These particular doors are hardly ever opened, normally only for big events. The real entrance is to the right.
Speaking of the doors, they are flanked by the statues of St Peter and St Paul. You’ll notice that one of the statues appears quite a bit shorter than the other. The unfortunate saint (I’m not sure if it’s Peter or Paul?) was beheaded during a particularly tumultuous time for Bath and a new head had to be formed for him out of what was left behind of his neck, leaving him with a more stooped appearance than that of his fellow saint.
Going back to when Bishop Oliver King took over the restoration of the church after it fell into disrepair under the Normans – much of the outside of the abbey looks as it does due to him. In the picture above, there are six figures carved into the church under canopies – the other side has the same. These figures represent the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ. In between them are angels climbing a ladder to heaven. These were added because of a dream Oliver King had, similar to that of Jacob’s in the Old Testament, of angels ascending a ladder into heaven. (Someone needs to tell the third one down that she’s going the wrong way!)
This was the mark Oliver King left behind on the abbey to show his work in rebuilding it. The carvings are symbols for his name – Bishop (the bishop hat), Oliver (the olive tree), King (the crown surrounding the tree). Pretty creative, right?
Walking around to the other side of Bath Abbey, you’ll see the 150-year-old Rebecca Fountain. She was built by the Bath Temperance Association and inscribed with the words “Water Is Best” to promote morality and total abstinence from alcohol. At the time, the fountain was also a source of local drinking water, but when we visited she was all dried up.
From practically any spot around Bath Abbey, you’ve got a great view of some pretty stunning medieval architecture. I like how this picture shows off the abbey’s many pinnacles and the flying buttresses. Cory could tell you all kinds of things about the buttresses, but I’m just like, Hey look, those are cool! I did learn one thing from him before I dashed off to take another photo – the buttresses are there to provide support for the high vaulted ceilings on the inside. So even before you go in, you know the inside is going to be pretty spectacular.
Last picture before I close what has become a (possibly very boring) architecture/history lesson. This photo is from the back side of Bath Abbey, which doesn’t even really look like it could be the back side because it’s still so striking. This side of the abbey faces the River Avon where you’ll find Pulteney Bridge and other popular buildings in Bath, like the Guildhall. There are so many lovely photo opportunities in this section of the city!
Click here for Part 2: Inside Bath Abbey
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