Abbey Church of
Saint Peter and Saint Paul, Bath, commonly known
as Bath Abbey, is an Anglican parish church and a former Benedictine
monastery and a proto (former)
Co-cathedral in Bath, Somerset,
England. Founded in the 7th century, Bath
Abbey was reorganised
in the 10th century and rebuilt in the 12th and 16th centuries;
major restoration work was carried out by Sir
George Gilbert Scott
George Gilbert Scott in
the 1860s. It is one of the largest examples of Perpendicular Gothic
architecture in the West Country. The cathedral was consolidated to
Wells Cathedral in 1538 after the abbey was dissolved in the
Dissolution of the Monasteries, but the name of the diocese has
The church is cruciform in plan, and able to seat 1200. An active
place of worship, it also hosts secular civic ceremonies, concerts and
lectures. Its congregation numbers in the hundreds, and annual
visitors in the hundreds of thousands. The choir performs in the abbey
and elsewhere. There is a heritage museum in the vaults.
The abbey is a Grade I listed building, particularly noted for
its fan vaulting. It contains war memorials for the local population
and monuments to several notable people, in the form of wall and floor
plaques and commemorative stained glass. The church has two organs and
a peal of ten bells. The west front includes sculptures of angels
climbing to heaven on two stone ladders.
1.1 Early history
1.2 Norman Conquest to the Dissolution
1.3 Reformation and subsequent decline
1.4 Modern renaissance
2.3.2 Main organ
2.3.3 Continuo organ
4 Heritage Vaults Museum
6 See also
9 External links
In 675 Osric, King of the Hwicce, granted the Abbess Berta 100 hides
near Bath for the establishment of a convent. This religious house
became a monastery under the patronage of the
Bishop of Worcester.
Offa of Mercia
Offa of Mercia successfully wrested "that most famous monastery
at Bath" from the bishop in 781.
William of Malmesbury
William of Malmesbury tells that
Offa rebuilt the monastic church, which may have occupied the site of
an earlier pagan temple, to such a standard that King
Eadwig was moved
to describe it as being "marvellously built"; little is known about
the architecture of this first building on the site.
England had declined by that time, but Eadwig's brother Edgar (who was
crowned "King of the English" at the abbey in 973) began its
revival on his accession to the throne in 959. He encouraged monks to
adopt the Rule of Saint Benedict, which was introduced at Bath under
Abbot Ælfheah (St. Alphege).
Norman Conquest to the Dissolution
The sculptures of angels climb
Jacob's Ladder on the west front of
Bath was ravaged in the power struggle between the sons of William the
Conqueror following his death in 1087. The victor, William II Rufus,
granted the city to a royal physician, John of Tours, who became
Bishop of Wells and
Abbot of Bath. Shortly after his
consecration John bought Bath Abbey's grounds from the king, as
well as the city of Bath itself. Whether John paid Rufus for the city
or whether he was given it as a gift by the king is unclear. The
abbey had recently lost its abbot, Ælfsige, and according to Domesday
Book was the owner of large estates in and near the city; it was
likely the abbey's wealth that attracted John to take over the
monastery. By acquiring Bath, John also acquired the mint that was
in the city. In 1090 he transferred the seat, or administration,
of the bishopric to Bath Abbey, probably in an attempt to
increase the revenues of his see. Bath was a rich abbey, and Wells had
always been a poor diocese. By taking over the abbey, John increased
his episcopal revenues.
William of Malmesbury
William of Malmesbury portrays the moving
of the episcopal seat as motivated by a desire for the lands of the
abbey, but it was part of a pattern at the time of moving cathedral
seats from small villages to larger towns. When John moved his
episcopal seat, he also took over the abbey of Bath as his cathedral
chapter, turning his diocese into a bishopric served by monks instead
of the canons at Wells who had previously served the diocese. John
rebuilt the monastic church at Bath, which had been damaged during one
of Robert de Mowbray's rebellions. Permission was given to move the
Somerset from Wells – a comparatively small
settlement – to the then walled city of Bath.
When this was effected in 1090, John became the first
Bishop of Bath,
and St Peter's was raised to cathedral status. As the roles of
bishop and abbot had been combined, the monastery became a priory, run
by its prior. With the elevation of the abbey to cathedral status, it
was felt that a larger, more up-to-date building was required. John of
Tours planned a new cathedral on a grand scale, dedicated to Saint
Peter and Saint Paul, but only the ambulatory was complete when he
died in December 1122. He was buried in the cathedral. The most
renowned scholar monk based in the abbey was Adelard of Bath; after
his various travels he was back in the monastery by 1106.
The half-finished cathedral was devastated by fire in 1137, but
work continued under Godfrey, the new bishop, until about 1156; the
completed building was approximately 330 feet (101 m) long. It
was consecrated while
Robert of Bath was bishop. The specific date is
not known however it was between 1148 and 1161.
In 1197, Reginald Fitz Jocelin's successor, Savaric FitzGeldewin, with
the approval of Pope Celestine III, officially moved his seat to
Glastonbury Abbey, but the monks there would not accept their new
Bishop of Glastonbury and the title of
Bishop of Bath and Glastonbury
was used until the Glastonbury claim was abandoned in 1219.
Savaric's successor, Jocelin of Wells, again moved the bishop's seat
to Bath Abbey, with the title
Bishop of Bath. Following his death the
monks of Bath unsuccessfully attempted to regain authority over
Wells. There were 40 monks on the roll in 1206.
Joint cathedral status was awarded by
Pope Innocent IV
Pope Innocent IV to Bath and
Wells in 1245. Roger of Salisbury was appointed the first Bishop
of Bath and Wells, having been
Bishop of Bath for a year previously.
Later bishops preferred Wells, the canons of which had successfully
petitioned various popes down the years for Wells to regain cathedral
Cathedral gradually fell into disrepair. In 1485 the
priory had 22 monks. When Oliver King,
Bishop of Bath and Wells
1495–1503, visited Bath in 1499 he was shocked to find this famous
church in ruins. He also described lax discipline,
idleness and a group of monks "all too eager to succumb to the
temptations of the flesh".
King took a year to consider what action to take, before writing to
Prior of Bath in October 1500 to explain that a large amount of
the priory income would be dedicated to rebuilding the cathedral.
There are several stories that, on a visit to Bath, King had a dream
in which he "saw the Heavenly Host on high with angels ascending and
descending by ladder" which is now represented on the west front of
the cathedral. However this interpretation, which first
appeared in the writings of John Harington, around 100 years after it
was supposed to have happened, has been challenged.
Robert and William Vertue, the king's masons were commissioned,
promising to build the finest vault in England, promising "there shall
be none so goodely neither in England nor France". Their design
incorporated the surviving Norman crossing wall and arches. They
appointed Thomas Lynne to supervise work on site and work probably
began the following spring.
Oliver King planned a smaller church,
covering the area of the Norman nave only. He did not live to see
the result, but the restoration of the cathedral was completed just a
few years before the
Dissolution of the Monasteries
Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539.
Reformation and subsequent decline
The abbey in 1875
Prior Holloway surrendered Bath
Priory to the crown in January 1539.
It was sold to Humphry Colles of Taunton. The abbey was stripped
of its co-cathedral status in the aftermath of the Dissolution when
the cathedra was consolidated in Wells. The church was stripped of
lead, iron and glass and left to decay. Colles sold it to Matthew
Wardour Castle in 1543. His son Edmund Colthurst gave the
roofless remains of the building to the corporation of Bath in
1572. The corporation had difficulty finding private funds for its
In 1574, Queen Elizabeth I promoted the restoration of the church, to
serve as the grand parish church of Bath. She ordered that a national
fund should be set up to finance the work, and in 1583 decreed
that it should become the parish church of Bath. James Montague,
Bishop of Bath and Wells from 1608–1616, paid £1,000 for a new
nave roof of timber lath construction; according to the inscription on
his tomb, this was prompted after seeking shelter in the roofless nave
during a thunderstorm. He is buried in an alabaster tomb in the north
Abbey c. 1900
During the 1820s and 1830s buildings, including houses, shops and
taverns which were very close to or actually touching the walls of the
abbey were demolished and the interior remodelled by George Phillips
Manners who was the Bath
City Architect. Manners erected flying
buttresses to the exterior of the nave and added pinnacles to the
Major restoration work was carried out by Sir
George Gilbert Scott
George Gilbert Scott in
the 1860s, funded by the rector, Charles Kemble. The work included
the installation of fan vaulting in the nave, which was not merely a
fanciful aesthetic addition but a completion of the original
Oliver King had arranged for the vaulting of the choir, to
a design by William and Robert Vertue. There are clues in the
stonework that King intended the vaulting to continue into the nave,
but that this plan was abandoned, probably for reasons of cost. In
addition a stone screen between the choir and nave was removed.
Scott's work was completed by his pupil
Thomas Graham Jackson
Thomas Graham Jackson in the
1890s including work on the west front.
Work carried out in the 20th and 21st centuries included full cleaning
of the stonework and the reconstruction of the pipe organ by Klais
Orgelbau of Bonn. The stonework of the west front had been subject to
natural erosion therefore a process of lime-based conservation was
carried out during the 1990s by Nimbus Conservation under the guidance
of Professor Robert Baker who had previously worked on the west front
of Wells Cathedral. Some of the damage to sculptures had been made
worse by the use of
Portland cement by previous work carried out in
the Victorian era. A statue of St Phillip was beyond repair and was
removed and replaced with a modern statue by Laurence Tindall.
Bath Abbey, vaults.
The new church is not a typical example of the Perpendicular form of
Gothic architecture; the low aisles and nave arcades and the very tall
clerestory present the opposite balance to that which was usual in
perpendicular churches. As this building was to serve as a monastic
church, it was built to a cruciform plan, which had become relatively
rare in parish churches of the time. The interior contains fine fan
vaulting by Robert and William Vertue, who designed similar vaulting
for the Henry VII chapel, at Westminster Abbey. The building has 52
windows, occupying about 80% of the wall space, giving the
interior an impression of lightness, and reflecting the different
attitudes towards churchmanship shown by the clergy of the time and
those of the 12th century.
The cruciform abbey is built of Bath stone, which gives the exterior
its yellow colour. It is an atypical example of the Perpendicular form
of Gothic architecture, with low aisles and nave arcades and a tall
clerestory. The walls and roofs are supported by buttresses and
surmounted by battlements, pinnacles and pierced parapets, many of
which were added by George Manners during his 1830's
The nave, which has five bays, is 211 feet (64 m) long and 35
feet (11 m) wide to the pillars and rises to 75 feet
(23 m), with the whole church being 225 feet (69 m) long
and 80 feet (24 m) wide.
The west front, which was originally constructed in 1520, has a large
arched window and detailed carvings. Above the window are carvings
of angels and to either side long stone ladders with angels climbing
up them. Apart from the story mentioned above connecting it with
Bishop of Bath and Wells 1495–1503 this is a direct
reference to the dream of the prophet Jacob mentioned in the Bible and
commonly called Jacobs Ladder.
Below the window a battlemented parapet supports a statue and beneath
this, on either side of the door, are statues of St Peter and St
Paul. Restoration work in the late 20th century involved cleaning
with electronically controlled intermittent water sprays and ammonium
carbonate poultices. One of the figures which had lost its head and
shoulders was replaced. The sculptures on the West front have been
interpreted as representing "spiritual ascent through the virtue of
humility and descent through the vice of pride" and Christ as the
Man of Sorrow and the Antichrist. During the 1990s a major
restoration and cleaning work were carried out on the exterior
stonework, returning it to the yellow colour hidden under centuries of
The stained glass and altar at the eastern end of the nave
The building has 52 windows, occupying about 80 percent of the
wall space. The east end has a square-framed window of seven
lights. It includes a depiction of the nativity made by Clayton
and Bell in 1872, and was presented to the church by the Bath
The window of the
Four Evangelists over the northwest door is a
memorial to Charles Empson, who died in 1861.
In 2010 a stained glass window was uncovered in the abbey vaults. The
design around the window is by William Burges.
The two-stage central tower is not square but oblong in plan. It has
two bell openings on each side and four polygonal turret pinnacles.
The tower is 161 feet (49 m) high, and is accessed by a
staircase of 212 steps.
Tower as seen from Roman Baths
In 1700 the old ring of six bells was replaced by a new ring of eight.
All but the tenor still survive. In 1770 two lighter bells were added
to create the first ring of ten bells in the diocese. The tenor was
recast in 1870. The abbey's tower is now home to a ring of ten
bells, which are – unusually – hung so that the order of
the bells from highest to lowest runs anti-clockwise around the
ringing chamber. The tenor weighs 33 cwt (3,721 lb or
1,688 kg). Bath is a noted centre of change ringing in the
The interior fan vaulting ceiling, originally installed by Robert and
William Vertue, was restored by Sir
George Gilbert Scott
George Gilbert Scott between 1864
and 1874. The fan vaulting provides structural stability by
distributing the weight of the roof down ribs that transfer the force
into the supporting columns via the flying buttresses.
Scott's work in the 1870s included the installation of large gas
chandeliers made by the Coventry metalworker Francis Skidmore. They
were converted to electricity in 1979. Other new features included
a new pulpit and seating. A marble altarpiece from General George Wade
in the sanctuary was removed and replaced with a decorative
In the 1920s
Thomas Graham Jackson
Thomas Graham Jackson redesigned the Norman Chapel into a
Memorial Chapel, now Gethsemane Chapel, and added a cloister.
New quire screens were installed in 2004, partly to improve the
acoustics, topped with 12 carved angels playing musical
The memorial to William Bingham, with figures of angels on each side
of a wall-mounted plaque
Within the abbey are 617 wall memorials and 847 floor stones. They
include those dedicated to Beau Nash, Admiral
Arthur Phillip (first
Governor of the colony of New South Wales, which became part of
Australia after federation in 1901), James Montague (
Bishop of Bath
and Wells), Lady Waller (wife of William Waller, a
leader in the English Civil War), Elizabeth Grieve (wife of James
Grieve, physician to Elizabeth, Empress of Russia), Sir William Baker,
John Sibthorp, Richard Hussey Bickerton, William Hoare, Richard
Bickerton and US Senator William Bingham. Many of the monuments in the
churchyard were carved between 1770 and 1860 by Reeves of Bath. War
memorials include those commemorating the First Anglo-Afghan War
(1841–42), the First World War (1914–18), and the Second World War
(1939–45). The most recent memorial was installed in 1958 to
commemorate Isaac Pitman, the developer of Pitman shorthand, who died
The first mention of an organ in the abbey dates to 1634, but nothing
is known of that instrument. The first properly recorded organ in Bath
Abbey was built by Abraham Jordan in 1708. It was modified in 1718 and
1739 by Jordan's son. The specification recorded in 1800 was one of
twenty stops spread over three manuals. The compasses of the
manuals were extended, one and a half octaves of pedals were added and
the instrument renovated in 1802 by John Holland; further repairs were
effected by Flight & Robson in 1826. This instrument was
removed first to the Bishop's Palace at Wells in 1836, then to St
Mary's Church, Yatton, where it was subsequently rebuilt and
The organ in the north transept, rebuilt in 1997 by Klais Orgelbau
The abbey's next organ was built in 1836 by John Smith of Bristol, to
a specification of thirty stops over three manuals and pedals.
This instrument was rebuilt on a new gallery in the North
William Hill & Son of London in 1868, to a specification of forty
stops spread over four manuals and pedals, although the Solo
department, which would have brought the total to well over forty, was
not completed. It was mostly removed to the Church of St Peter
& St Paul,
Cromer in 1896, the remainder being kept for
incorporation in the new abbey organ.
A new organ was supplied to the abbey in 1895 by
Norman and Beard of
Norwich. It had 52 stops spread over four manuals and pedals, and
stood divided on two steel beams in the North and South crossing
arches, with the console standing on the floor next to the north-west
pier of the crossing. New cases were to be provided to designs by
Brian Oliver of Bath, but were never executed. Norman & Beard
re-erected it in a new case designed by Sir Thomas Jackson in the
Transept in 1914, with the addition of two stops to the
Pedal. It was again rebuilt by them in 1930, and then by Hill,
Norman and Beard in 1948, which brought the number of stops to 58.
In 1972 this was increased to a total of 65 speaking stops. The
Positive division, with its separate case behind the console, was
installed at the same time. Problems caused by the tonal scheme's lack
of coherence – the 1895 pipework contrasting sharply with that
of 1972 – and with reliability, caused by the wide variety of
different types of key actions, all difficult to access, led to the
decision to have the instrument rebuilt yet again.
The organ was totally reconstructed in 1997 by
Klais Orgelbau of Bonn,
retaining the existing instrument as far as was possible and restoring
it largely to its 1895 condition, although the Positive division was
kept. The instrument as it now stands has 63 speaking stops over
four manuals and pedals, and is built largely on the Werkprinzip
principle of organ layout: the case is only one department deep,
except for parts of the Pedal sited at the back rather than the sides
of the case. New 75 percent tin front pipes were made and the
case completed with back, side walls and roof. Pierced panelling
executed by Derek Riley of Lyndale Woodcarving in Saxmundham, Suffolk,
was provided to allow sound egress from the bottom of the case. The
old console has been retained but thoroughly rebuilt with modern
accessories and all-new manuals. Twenty-two of the organ's 83 ranks
contain some pipework from the 1868 instrument. Four ranks are made up
entirely of 1868 pipework, and 21 contain 1895 pipework. Only two
ranks are entirely of 1895. Forty-eight ranks contain some new
pipework, 34 of which are entirely new. Old wind pressures have been
used wherever possible. The old wind reservoirs have also been
restored rather than replaced. The instrument has tracker key action
on the manuals, with electrically assisted tracker action to the
pedals. The stop action is electric throughout.
Abbey and the Roman baths
A four-stop continuo organ was built for the abbey in 1999 by
Northampton-based organ builder Kenneth Tickell. The instrument,
contained in a case of dark oak, is portable, and can be tuned to
three pitches: A=440 Hz (modern concert pitch), A=415 Hz and
A=465 Hz. Iit is also possible to tune at A=430. A lever pedal
can reduce the stops sounding to only the 8' stop and, when released,
returns the organ to the registration in use before it was
The abbey has sections for boys, girls, men and children (the Melody
Makers). As well as singing at the abbey, they also tour to cathedrals
in the UK and Europe. The choir has broadcast Choral Evensong on BBC
Radio 3, and has made several recordings. It performed at the
Three Tenors concert for the opening of the Thermae Bath Spa. The
abbey is also used as a venue for visiting choirs and, from its
inception in 1947, the
City of Bath Bach Choir.
The choirs of Bath
Abbey sung the 2015 Christmas Service live on BBC
Heritage Vaults Museum
Abbey Heritage Vaults Museum was located in the restored
18th-century cellars, and featured artifacts and exhibits about the
abbey's history. Displays included the different buildings on the site
and their uses, the abbey's impact on the community, the construction,
architecture and sculptures of the buildings, artifacts and
sculptures, and the role of the abbey in present times. The museum
opened in 1994, but has now been closed.
An angel on the way up, Bath
Abbey west elevation
19th century stained glass window showing the coronation of King Edgar
Flying buttresses and a pinnacle at the abbey
William Bingham (1752–1804)
Wolfran Cornewall (1658–1720)
Thomas Robert Malthus
Thomas Robert Malthus (1766–1834)
James Montague (c.1568–1618)
John Sibthorp (1758–1796)
List of former cathedrals in the United Kingdom
List of organists and assistant organists of Bath Abbey
List of English abbeys, priories and friaries serving as parish
List of ecclesiastical parishes in the
Diocese of Bath and Wells
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Wikimedia Commons has media related to Bath Abbey.
Benedictine abbeys and priories in medieval England and Wales
Brewood (Black Ladies)
Bury St Edmunds
Canterbury (Christ Church)
Canterbury (St Augustine's)
Norwich (Holy Trinity)
St Benet of Hulme
Winchester (New Minister)
Winchester (St Swithun)
York (St Mary's)
Norwich (St Leonard's)
Oxford (of Canterbury)
Oxford (of Durham)
Oxford (of Gloucester)
Creeting (St. Mary)
Creeting (St. Olave)
Horsham St Faith
Monk Sherborne (Pamber)
Ogbourne St George
St Michael's Mount
York (Holy Trinity)
Members of the Greater Churches Network
Church of England
Province of Canterbury
St Martin in the Bull Ring, Birmingham
St Botolph's Church, Boston
St Mary Redcliffe, Bristol
St Mary's Church, Bury St Edmunds
Church of St Mary the Great, Cambridge
Church of St Mary and All Saints, Chesterfield
Holy Trinity Church, Coventry
St Wulfram's Church, Grantham
Great Malvern Priory
Great Yarmouth Minster
St Mary, Hadleigh
All Saints' Church, Hertford
King's Lynn Minster
St James' Church, Louth
St Laurence's Church, Ludlow
All Saints Church, Fulham, London
All Saints Church, Kingston upon Thames, London
Christ Church, Spitalfields, London
Parish Church, London
St Martin-in-the-Fields, London
St Mary's, Lutterworth
St Peter Mancroft, Norwich
All Saints' Church, Northampton
St Andrew's Church, Rugby
St Mary the Virgin, Saffron Walden
St Chad's Church, Shrewsbury
Church of the Holy Trinity, Stratford-upon-Avon
St Mary Magdalene, Taunton
St Mary Magdalene, Taunton
Collegiate Church of St Mary, Warwick
St Peter's Collegiate Church, Wolverhampton
Province of York
St George's Minster, Doncaster
St Peter's Church, Harrogate
St Mary's Church, Nantwich
Church of St. Mary Magdalene, Newark-on-Trent
St Mary's Church, Nottingham
Church of St Peter and St Paul, Ormskirk
Church of St Wilfrid, Standish
Church in Wales
Priory Church of St Mary, Abergavenny
St John the Baptist Church, Cardiff
St Giles' Church, Wrexham
Scottish Episcopal Church
Church of St John the Eva