Bath is renowned for its architecture. Walking around the city, you will discover fine examples of Georgian architecture seemingly on every corner. However, very few can match the Gothic grandeur of Bath Abbey. With its stupendous stained-glass windows, fantastic fan vaulting and brilliant columns of honey-coloured Bath stone, it’s an incredible place of worship, and one of the key attractions of the World Heritage Site city.
There’s been a place of Christian worship on the site of Bath Abbey for well over a millennium. Its first iteration was as an Anglo-Saxon monastery built in 757AD. When the Normans conquered England, they pulled down the monastery to make way for the construction of a massive cathedral in 1090. Fast forward a couple of hundred years and that cathedral lay in ruins, ready to be replaced by Bath Abbey.
The abbey as you see it today is the final product of centuries of ruin, restoration and renovation. King Henry VIII’s order for the Dissolution of the Monasteries led to the abbey’s ruin up until the 17th century, when the building was repaired so it could be used as a parish church. It wasn’t until the 19th century that some of Bath Abbey’s finer details were added. The most drastic aspects of the abbey’s transformation can be traced back to Sir George Gilbert Scott who, between 1864 and 1874, completely revamped the interior, replacing the wooden ceiling with the world-class fan vaulting we see today.
The best way to see Bath Abbey is by taking one of their guided Tower Tours, which run regularly every day except Sunday. They’re very reasonably priced, and allow you to delve into the abbey’s rich history, even giving you the opportunity to explore some of the off-limits areas of the abbey – such as the bell chamber and the clock room. However, the best bit of the tour is the views of Bath from the top of the tower. In total, there are 212 steps and two spiral staircases you’ll need to tackle to get to the top, but it’s more than worth it. You can see for miles around and even wave to the people making waves in the pool on the roof of the Thermae Bath Spa.
If the walls of the abbey could talk, they’d certainly have a thing or two to say. Instead, you’ll have to make do with the Bath Abbey tour guides. The good news is that they’re founts of knowledge, brimming with local trivia, ready to tell you all about how Bath Abbey was when King Edgar, the first king of England, was crowned there in 973. Or, the story behind the angels climbing Jacob’s Ladder, carved into the west front of the abbey.
So, whether you want a history lesson, the best views of Bath or simply to see some of the finest architecture in the country, a visit to Bath Abbey should be right at the top of your list of things to do in Bath.