• LOCATION 6 | Walk the Highlights of Medieval Bath

    Inside Bath Abbey

    Inside Bath Abbey on Bath audio tour Walk the Highlights of Medieval Bath

    In late 2020, what is known as the Abbey Footprint programme of transformative capital works, costing £20 million, is due to complete. The works include a sustainable eco-friendly heating system using the hot springs and the restoration of stone floor. Additional information boards about Footprint are on display both inside and outside the Abbey church.

    You will have entered the church from the west end and will be standing in the part of the church called the nave.

    I'll be pointing out various spots of interest, but feel free to pause and unpause the audio to take in the church at your own pace.

    Imagine the church floor plan to be a cross in the cruciform shape and with your back to the west wall, you are standing at the foot of the cross, looking ahead, through the choir, with the tower and it’s 212 steps above, to the magnificent east window in the sanctuary, effectively at the top of the cross.

    [5 SECOND PAUSE]

    Let’s stop here a moment.

    This is an ideal place to look up at the stone fan vaulted ceiling. Isn't it amazing? Just think of the skill required to create such artistry. Fan vaulting is the most spectacular and the last manifestation of what is known as rib vaulting, the job of which is to hold up the very heavy limestone ceiling of course!

    I suggest you walk around the inside of the church in a clockwise manner, as this will give you the chance to see many of the spectacular features.

    [1.5 SECOND PAUSE]

    Let’s continue walking east along the north aisle.

    You're walking on a floor of what is known as stone ledgers, which covered the bodies of up to 7000 people in just one-metre deep soil, all buried in a period of around 250 years. However, this practice of burying inside the church ended nearly 200 years ago in the middle of the 19th century. All the remains have now been removed and re-interred elsewhere. That is a lot of burials and you have probably worked out this could only mean the burials spaces were used more than once!

    Notice also the numerous wall memorials, with many of the carvings true works of art.

    However, you may be even more amazed to know this church is only half the size of the previous 900-year-old French Norman cathedral it sits on, the floor and foundations of the Cathedral being just one metre down and which is used to hold up and support the current building.

    Notice also the tomb of Bishop James Montagu, who is buried above the floor level in the north aisle. Lucky for him as he may have been removed and reburied also! Notice how his effigy has the feet facing to the east, ready to sit and face that direction? This is usually the case in the Christian tradition, due to the expectation of the second coming of Christ to be from the east, but this is also a pagan tradition, as the sun rises in the east of course. It was the Bishop’s brother, Sir Henry, who paid for the magnificent wooden doors in the west end of the church.

    By continuing down the north aisle, notice the beautiful organ on your left, in the area called the transept. This instrument uses over 4000 pipes to create its rich range of sounds.

    Continue a little further to the end of the north aisle, to the St Alphege chapel.

    [5 SECOND PAUSE]

    Let’s stop here a moment.

    St Alphege is depicted on an embroidered screen holding Canterbury Cathedral above him. Over 1000 years ago he was an abbot here in the earliest church building, the one before the Cathedral, before becoming the Archbishop of Canterbury. During that time, when he was Archbishop, he was murdered by the Vikings who had captured him and when their ransom demands were not forthcoming, they murdered him by beating him to death using the heavy bones of cattle.

    The window above shows the crowning of the first king to claim to be the king of all England, King Edgar, who was crowned in the same church that was here before the Cathedral.

    By moving to your right, to the middle of the sanctuary, looking at the stunning east window, you will see depicted many events in the life of Jesus.

    [5 SECOND PAUSE]

    Let’s stop here a moment.

    To the left of the altar, you will see the Bishop’s ornately carved wooden chair and is used when the Bishop visits and attends services, coming from the principal church of the diocese, the Cathedral in the city of Wells, around 25 kilometres away. The Bishop’s equivalent chair in the Cathedral is known as a cathedra and this is how a Cathedral gets its name. The previous church here on this site, the French Norman building, was for a period the principal church of the diocese and therefore had a cathedra or Bishop’s throne and during that time it was also a cathedral.

    Again, by moving to your right and across the sanctuary, you will come to the east end of the south aisle.

    [5 SECOND PAUSE]

    Let’s stop here a moment.

    Look into what is called the Gethsemane Chapel, where an Amnesty candle burns on the altar, the window will have a rounded arch immediately above it, which shows this was part of the original east wall of the French Norman cathedral’s south transept. This leads through into the rest of the building, whereas today it is the final eastern wall of the current church.

    [5 SECOND PAUSE]

    Let’s turn around and continue walking, this time west along the south aisle.

    As you walk, maybe explore the south transept on your left.

    [5 SECOND PAUSE]

    Let’s stop here a moment.

    You will see the tomb of Jane Waller and the effigies of her and her husband, General Waller, a famous English Civil War soldier who fought on the side of the Parliamentarians against the Royalist forces in the middle of the 17th century. Interestingly, he is buried elsewhere in England, but notice also the tomb is facing west and not east – so, much for convention!

    [5 SECOND PAUSE]

    Let’s continue walking west along the south aisle.

    Continue walking back to the west end of the church, in the direction you first entered, but this time to the exit. Do take a moment to look at the west window above the wooden doors.

    [5 SECOND PAUSE]

    Let’s stop here a moment.

    These windows show scenes from the first five books of the Old Testament.

    When you have finished taking in the beauty of the stained glass and the stories depicted, please leave the church the way you came in, and continue straight across the churchyard, going through the covered area of columns.

    If you plan on spending a while here, you can end the tour now. When you're done, exit the church, walk back to the churchyard and start the tour again by choosing "Resume".

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Walk the Highlights of Medieval Bath