Bath AbbeyBath Abbey Built just over 500 years ago, Bath Abbey stands upon the foundations of a church built here in 676AD by King Osiric. An enormous Norman church replaced the Anglo Saxon one in 1090 but by the time Oliver King was appointed Bishop of Bath in 1496, this church had also fallen into ruin. Finding the crumbling framework of the church as shocking as the lax morals of the monks within, Bishop King was enabled by the peace and prosperity of the Tudor era to build a wonderful monument that has subsequently been called the last great Gothic church.
The first thing tourists learn about Bath Abbey is its legendary start. It is said that Bishop Oliver King had a dream in which he saw Bath Abbey reconstructed by an olive tree and a crown (representing himself and King Henry VII). This symbolic vision was incorporated into the outer fabric on the West Front of Bath Abbey. Here you'll see a ladder reaching to the heights with Christ at its top, being climbed by angels. Critics question the validity of the tale, sceptically pointing to the fact that Bishop King's vision is first reported some 100 years after the supposed event. Architectural buffs also point to the fact that this is Jacob's ladder, a Biblical ladder which appears on many other churches.
Construction of Bath Abbey began in 1495 but the stonework was not completed till 1518. In the interim, Bishop King passed away and as Bath Abbey was not yet consecrated his wish to be buried here remained unfulfilled. His needed support for the project also resulted in a long protraction of the work. It was finally finished by 1533 but its new-found glory was to be short-lived. In 1539, Bath Abbey passed into the hands of the Crown during the infamous Dissolution of the Monasteries. Its fate was similar to that of many other great priories and churches throughout England. The roof was stripped for its valuable lead, stained glass windows ripped out and anything of value was removed before it was left to rot.
The subsequent fortunate fate of Bath Abbey was due to a renaissance of Bath as a fashionable spa resort. In 1572, the mayors and burgesses of the City of Bath petitioned the Crown for funds to restore the church so that it would be a fitting place of worship for the influx of noble men and men of worship who found their numbers overwhelmed the churches of Bath. Dedicated in 1609, works continued and Bath Abbey was finally completed by 1617.
On your visit to the Perpendicular church of Bath Abbey, you'll by awed by the intricate carvings on its West Front and similarly inspired on entering as your eyes are drawn to the fan vaulting above. Also worth your inspection are the Bath Abbey Heritage Vaults where you'll see the Bath Abbey silver, relics from its Saxon and Norman heritage and a reconstruction of the Abbey. You'll also be impressed by the stained glass windows. Occupying approximately 80% of Bath Abbey's wall space, these 52 windows led to the Abbey's being dubbed 'the Lantern of the West' by affectionate locals in the days before street lighting.
Address: Bath Abbey Offices, 13 Kingston Buildings
Postcode: BA1 1LT
Town/city or near: Bath