Bath Abbey

Extracts from ‘Notes on the Cathedrals’, an Edwardian pocket guidebook (c.1904) by W. H. Fairbairns.

The modern city of Bath was the Roman Aquae Sulis. Here the conquerors, attracted by the genial climate of the Avon valley, established themselves, and built not only a complete series of baths but a magnificent temple to Sul Minerva. The baths, more or less altered, we can still see, but of the temple there remain only the fragments in the museum.

Bath Abbey fromm the Roman Baths. Image from an Edwardian pocket guidebook.

The Abbey from the Roman baths

Early Christian tradition tells of the foundation of a nunnery by King Ostric at Bath in 676. A hundred years later Offa King of Mercia certainly established a college of secular canons here, who in the tenth century gave place to Benedictine monks. King Edgar came to Bath in the year 973 and was crowned in the Abbey Church on Whitsunday of that year.

From the Norman Conquest onward the history of Bath Abbey is closely knit to that of the Cathedral at Wells, and although there have been many changes, the diocese to-day bears the historic title of Bath and Wells.

Wells Cathedral_Quinton

An artist’s impression of Wells Cathedral by A. R. Quinton

John of Villula, a native of Tours (where as a doctor he had amassed a considerable fortune), was appointed Bishop of Wells in 1088 and removed the place of the see to Bath Abbey, the rights of which he had purchased from William Rufus. The removal caused serious discord between the men of the two places, and it was not until 1218 that the question was finally settled and the unbroken succession of Bishops of Bath and Wells began.

The present building was begun by Bishop Oliver King who was translated from Exeter in 1495. He is said to have been moved to do this by a dream in which he heard a voice saying ‘Let an Olive establish the crown and a King restore the church.’ The representation of the vision was sculptured by the bishop on the west front of the Church.

West front of Bath Abbey. Image from an Edwardian pocket guide book.

[As a result of the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the reign of Henry VIII] …Everything of value was sold, the building remaining roofless until 1572, and it was not until the time of Bishop Montague (1608 – 1616) that the Church was fully restored.

In 1860 Sir Gilbert Scott was appointed architect, and between 1864 and 1874 the sum of £37,000 was expended on the building.

Bath Abbey_pump

The west front of Bath Abbey with the pump house at right.

Wells Cathedral seen from Milton Hill. Image from a vintage postcard.

Wells Cathedral

Fans of the TV series, Doctor Who, will know that a battle scene between the Doctor (David Tennant) and Lazarus was fought inside Wells Cathedral.