The ABBEY CHURCH OF SAINT PETER AND SAINT PAUL, BATH, commonly known
as BATH ABBEY, is an Anglican parish church and a former Benedictine
monastery in Bath ,
Somerset , England. Founded in the 7th century,
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
Gothic architecture in the
West Country .
The church is cruciform in plan , and is able to seat 1200. An active
place of worship, with hundreds of congregation members and hundreds
of thousands of visitors each year, it is used for religious services,
secular civic ceremonies, concerts and lectures. 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 History
* 1.1 Early history
* 1.2 Norman Conquest to the Dissolution
* 1.3 Reformation and subsequent decline
* 1.4 Modern renaissance
* 2 Architecture
* 2.1 Windows
* 2.2 Tower
* 2.2.1 Bells
* 2.3 Interior
* 2.3.1 Monuments
* 2.3.2 Main organ
* 2.3.3 Continuo organ
* 3 Choir
* 4 Heritage Vaults Museum
* 5 Burials
* 6 See also
* 7 References
* 8 Bibliography
* 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
Worcester . King
Offa of Mercia
Offa of Mercia successfully wrested "that most famous
monastery at Bath" from the bishop in 781. 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.
Monasticism in 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
Rule of Saint Benedict , which was introduced at
Abbot Ælfheah (St. Alphege ).
NORMAN CONQUEST TO THE DISSOLUTION
The sculptures of angels climb Jacob\'s Ladder on the west front
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
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 see of
Wells – a comparatively small settlement – to the then walled city
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
Robert of Bath was bishop. The specific date is not
known however it was between 1148 and 1161.
Reginald Fitz Jocelin
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
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
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
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.
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 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 , the
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 design.
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 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
The cruciform abbey is built of
Bath stone , which gives the exterior
its yellow colour. It is an atypical example of the Perpendicular form
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 restorations.
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 Oliver
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
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 dirt.
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
Clayton and Bell in 1872,
and was presented to the church by the Bath Literary Club.
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 West Country.
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 reredos .
In the 1920s
Thomas Graham Jackson redesigned the Norman Chapel into
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 instruments.
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
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
Isaac Pitman , the developer of
Pitman shorthand , who
died in 1897.
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 "> The organ in the north transept, rebuilt in
The abbey's next organ was built in 1836 by John Smith of
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
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 ">
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 depressed.
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
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 is located in the restored
18th-century cellars, and features artifacts and exhibits about the
abbey's history. Displays include 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 is currently closed for redevelopment.
An angel on the way up, Bath
Abbey west elevation *
19th century stained glass window showing the coronation of King
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)
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