Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Bath Abbey

Bath is an ancient city with a surprisingly young church. Although there has been an Abbey here since 676 AD (King Edgar was even crowned here in 973 AD), the present church owes its origins to Bishop Oliver King, who began to rebuild it in 1499.

Alas, the work was abruptly interrupted by the dissolution in the 1540's, so the last of Britain's great mediaeval churches was finally consecrated only in 1616. Its enormous Perpendicular windows gave it the nickname 'the Lantern of the West', but in truth elements such as the nave roof were quick additions to complete the church.

Its restoration in 1864 finally saw these elements finished to their original design, under the sure hand of Sir Giles Gilbert Scott. The result is a feast of perpendicular architecture, with spectacular fan vaults and those huge panel windows. This is not to everyone's taste - it has been likened to a mediaeval greenhouse - but the central space is nevertheless awe-inspiring.

A lovely quirk is the carving on the west front, depicting the dream which supposedly led Bishop King to rebuild the church in the first place: two stone ladders, with angels climbing up and down them to and from heaven. Proof, if proof were needed, of British eccentricity, even in matters of religion...

York Street, Bath, BA1 1LT Website

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