Bath Abbey, Somerset

Another wet Monday (2 June 2014). By now we have moved north, with a lovely cottage in Warminster – http://www.sykescottages.co.uk/cottage/DorsetSomerset/The-Oaks-13552.html. We had a couple of days in Bath – I highly recommend No. 1 Royal Crescent http://no1royalcrescent.org.uk and the William and Caroline Herschel Museum http://herschelmuseum.org.uk. We did the Roman Baths http://www.romanbaths.co.uk – marvellous museum, excellent audio tour, but the disabled lift was a bit exciting! (It stopped between floors. The intercom didn’t work. It has glass walls, but you’ve got to knock, get attention, get attention of foreigner who assumes that knocking on a glass wall and waving is a typical bit of eccentric English behaviour …). It adds to the experience.

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We had some lunch, then decided to have a look in the Abbey – if it is dedicated to a particular Saint, he or she doesn’t get a mention on their leaflet or on the website … www.bathabbey.org. (Wikipedia says Peter and Paul). However, and more importantly, the leaflet gives a very good message about Jesus – starting with the pictures in the East window, moving on to “born in an obscure Middle Eastern town …”, pointing out there are nearly 2 billion Christians in the world, and giving the message about the good news of Jesus.

The West Front, which I didn’t photo closely as it was raining, represents the dream of Bishop Oliver King that led him, in 1499, to demolish the ruined Norman cathedral and replace it with the present Abbey. It was suppressed in 1539, site sold and buildings largely destroyed. In 1569 the ruined abbey was presented to Bath to become its parish church – bet they were grateful – and it was re-roofed and repaired in 1611. In the 1830s the local architect George Manners added pinnacles and flying buttresses. Between 1864 and 1874 Sir George Gilbert Scott transformed it to his vision of Gothic architecture – including the stunning vaults.

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During the C18 the Abbey was patronised by the visitors and residents of Bath. The thing that strikes you in the Abbey are the memorial plaques. Here is the Victorian font of 1874, and you can see how well-covered the walls are. Some are of people I recognised, others I have simply photographed because they are wonderful.

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Venenzio Rauzzini (1746-1810) was an Italian musician. He was a boy in the Sistine Chapel Choir, then sung in Venice and Milan. He had to leave Milan after many affairs with married women, and went to the Court in Vienna where he worked with Mozart (who wrote for him). He moved to London in 1774, then Bath 1780 (he spent many years directing and financing concerts in the city). He worked with Haydn (who wrote for him). One school of thought says he was a castrato, another that he simply had a very high voice and could sing the female parts in operas. There is more about him at http://www.theguardian.com/music/2010/apr/12/bath-castrato-bicentenary

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I had a chat to one of the Stewards – and they obviously use members of the congregation very well – who said her Latin got as far as “this is the grave of William Baker”. Then a visitor came along who was related to Mr Baker and told her where he had served – Canada (hence the beaver), Egypt (camel), India (sacred cow), and I’m sure he’d been somewhere with sheep too!

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Richard ‘Beau’ Nash (1674-1761) Master of Ceremonies in C18 Bath. He was, to quote the website, “sent down from Oxford for becoming embroiled with too many women, probably of the wrong sort”. More details at http://www.janeausten.co.uk/richard-beau-nash-the-original-beau/

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Memorial to William Bingham (1754-1804), US Senator, financial, landowner, and friend of Presidents.

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Tablet to Isaac Pitman (1813-1897) printer, spelling reformer and inventor of Pitman shorthand. Apparently his motto was “Time saved is life gained”. Shorthand courses are still available – I wonder how many lives his invention changed.

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Tomb of Jane, wife of Sir William Waller, who commanded the Parliamentary forces against the Royalists under Sir Ralph Hopton at the Battle of Lansdown in 1643. Sir William erected this tomb to the memory of his wife and made provision for his own burial here. He was, however, buried in the Tothill Street Chapel, Westminster.

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I wonder who decided that this young lady was going to be memorialised only half dressed … . More importantly, I wonder if there is any way they could use some of the stories of these tombs and the people to tell the story of the Christian faith. It is difficult to look beyond memorials. Here is a display board they have about Abbey life in the South Transept, while on the North side they have the Bath Abbey Diptychs, the life of Christ in 35 pairs of panels, by Sue Symons (2007). Here are a couple.

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There are some smashing stained glass windows too.

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The organ was rebuilt 1996-7 by Klais of Bonn, and they had spent 30 odd years discussing screens and what to put on them. To quote: “Several ideas were played with and rejected as unacceptable: heraldic shields (worthy, but dull), angels holding heraldic shields (ditto), angels holding scrolls which together created a text (very dull), two dimensional angels playing musical instruments (not good enough).” These were designed by Paul Fletcher and made in the studio of Laurence Beckford. Local musicians recognise people they know! They were installed by 2008. Our Gareth was a tuba player – we used to kid him he only played “oom and pah”. Do angelic tuba players have a wider range of notes?

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This is the Gethsemane Chapel, the High Altar, and the Chapel of St Alphege. Alphege (954-1012) came from a noble family, became a monk at Deerhurst, then joined the Abbey at Bath. He became Abbot. In 984 he became Bishop of Winchester, and Archbishop of Canterbury in 1006. He was captured by the Danes in 1011, and was murdered in Greenwich on 19 April 1012. The furnishings of this chapel were made by Jane Lemon and the Sarum Group.

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The HLF has given them a Round 1 grant of £390,000 allowing them to bid for a £10 million grant for Footprint. A fascinating project to stablise the church floor (too many people are buried underneath), heat the church with energy from the hot springs, adapt the interior so it is more inviting for worship, install new lighting and space for staging, create a new Song School and expand their music programme, build a new Refectory, arts and exhibition space. What marvellous faith – who says the church is dead?

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