Bath Abbey has had its fair share of facelifts, withstanding two World Wars, the city’s fluctuating wealth and even religious reform to remain a centre for Christian worship for no less than a thousand years.
Mum’s visited me in London quite a few times and we’ve always stuck pretty rigidly to exploring the capital. This time, for a wee change, we decided to hit the road to see what Bath had to offer. (Be sure to check back later in the week to find out how we made the most of our flying visit.)
The regular readers among you will know I love a good stained glass window and Bath Abbey did not disappoint. But the real star is way up in the building’s architectural heavens with that fan vaulted ceiling, first built in the early 1500s to a design by Master Architects Robert and William Vertue. So beloved was this ceiling by the city’s citizens than they paid for its restoration in the 17th Century with a donor roll call recorded in the Abbey’s Book of Benefactors.
Every corner of the Abbey felt carefully considered and cared for with perfectly symmetrical archways lining corridors flooded with light. Tourists and worshippers wandered open-mouthed through the aisles wondering things like, how on Earth did they get all the way up there to mould those cornices and I bet those chandeliers take a while to dust?
Head to the back of the church and you’ll find dedications to well-loved parishioners who’ve passed away. I love the detail that went into these – I don’t mean to come over macabre but you really don’t see much more beyond RIP and relationship status these days. As I studied the inscriptions I felt as though I got a sense of the peoples’ souls, from the man who was more inclined to hear than to be heard to the woman whose mind and person [were] equally amiable.
If you turn around and face the exit be sure to look up. On any given day you’ll get another chance to take in that beautifully sculpted ceiling. Turn 90° to your right and you’ll see the majestic Klais Organ, which has stood there since its installation in 1997, although previous incarnations have called the North Transept their home as far back as 1868. But if you’re especially lucky, when you look up you’ll see Bath-based artist, Anthony Head’s sculptural installation, iMigration 2 fluttering its wings overhead. Head was inspired to create the installation in response to media reporting of the influx of strangers to our shores. At first glance you may notice one dominant colour or perhaps a homogeneous mass swarming in the breeze that flows through the building. But look closely and you’ll see that each paper butterfly is entirely unique. In a bid to challenge our perceptions of the unknown Head’s artwork illustrates the butterflies’ individual beauty and, in turn, encourages visitors not to reduce people to simply the sum of basic parts. Of all the religious artefacts I came across at the Abbey, this installation was what embodied the true spirit of Christianity for me.
Although we didn’t make it up to the clock tower I’m going to take a punt and say it’s worth trekking up the stairs. We’d love to have gone on the guided tour but alas, our chosen timeslot sold out before we got to the front of the ticket queue. This is the only part of the Abbey that is ticketed and guided tours are £6 for adults and £3 for children aged between 5 and 15. The views across the city are said to be as breathtaking as the tour guides are knowledgeable so I’d recommend getting a ticket early to avoid disappointment. You can purchase tickets from the book shop on the ground floor.
If you’re planning a trip to Bath I’d highly recommend spending some time in the Abbey. Whether you’re want to indulge your inner history buff or simply take some time out for quiet reflection this is the ideal place to do both. For more information on the history of Bath Abbey, along with their upcoming calendar of events visit their website here. Check back at the weekend to see what we got up to on the rest of our trip.
Until next time,