Bath Abbey (Bath)
An Anglican parish church and a former Benedictine monastery in Bath, Somerset, England.
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The Abbey Church of Saint Peter, 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, reorganised in the 10th century and rebuilt in the 12th and 16th centuries, it is one of the largest examples of Perpendicular Gothic architecture in the West Country.
History to the present day
Bath was ravaged in the power struggle between the sons of William the Conqueror following his death in 1087. The victor, William Rufus, granted the city to a royal physician, John of Tours, who became Bishop of Wells and Abbot of Bath. Permission was given to move the see of 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 half-finished cathedral was devastated by fire in 1137, but work continued until about 1156; the completed building was approximately 330 feet (101 m) long. Joint cathedral status was awarded by 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. However, later bishops preferred Wells, the canons of which had successfully petitioned various popes down the years for Wells to regain cathedral status. Bath Cathedral gradually fell into disrepair. The existence of an ambulatory suggests a very large building, on a par with Durham Cathedral.
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 took a year to consider what action to take, before writing to the Prior of Bath in October 1500 to explain that a large amount of the priory income would be dedicated to rebuilding the cathedral. Work probably began the following spring. Bishop 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 in 1539. 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. However, 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 Reformation and subsequent decline
Prior Holloway surrendered Bath Priory to the crown in January 1539. The church was stripped of lead, iron and glass and left to decay. 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. James Montague, the Bishop of Bath and Wells from 1608–1616, paid £1,000 for a new nave roof of timber lath construction. He is buried in an alabaster tomb in the north aisle.
Major restoration work was carried out by Sir George Gilbert Scott in the 1860s, funded by the rector, Charles Kemble. This included the installation of fan vaulting in the nave. That was not merely a fanciful aesthetic addition, but a completion of the original design. Bishop 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. Work carried out in the 20th and 21st centuries included a full cleaning of the stonework and the reconstruction of the pipe organ by Klais Orgelbau of Bonn.
Arrival information and how to find us
Address: Bath Abbey, Bath, , United Kingdom
1 April - 31 October: Mon - Sat 9.00am - 6.00pm, Sun 1.00pm - 2.30pm & 4.30pm - 5.30pm
1 November - 31 March: Mon - Sat 9.00am - 4.30pm, Sun 1.00pm - 2.30pm & 4.30pm - 5.30pm