There has been a place of Christian worship on this site for well over a thousand years. However, the Abbey has undergone many transformations and changes during this time, and much like the city of Bath has experienced rise and falls in fortune, survived a number of major conflicts, architectural and religious reforms, and two World Wars, but still stands proudly today as an essential place for both worshippers and visitors.
As the history of this sacred place stretches as far back as Anglo-Saxon times, there is a great deal to discover: tales of Kings and Queens, saints and sinners, as well as stories of ordinary people. If we had to pick just five things we would like you to know about the Abbey’s history, these are:
Five Things to Know About Bath Abbey
Three different churches have occupied the site of today’s Abbey since 757 AD. First, an Anglo-Saxon monastery which was pulled down by the Norman conquerors of England; then a massive Norman cathedral which was begun about 1090 but lay in ruins by late 15th century; and finally, the present Abbey Church as we now know it.
The first King of all England, King Edgar was crowned on this site in 973 (as shown above). The service set the precedent for the coronation of all future Kings and Queens of England including Elizabeth II.
The first sight most visitors have of Bath Abbey is the West front, with its unique ladders of Angels. The story behind this is that the Bishop of Bath, Oliver King, is said to have had a dream of angels ascending and descending into heaven which inspired the design and which also inspired him to build a new Abbey church – the last great medieval cathedral to have been built in England.
After the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539 by order of King Henry VIII, the Abbey lay in ruins for more than 70 years. It wasn’t until 1616, that much of the building we see today was repaired and in use as a parish church and over two hundred years later, in the 1830s, that local architect George Manners added new pinnacles and flying buttresses to the exterior and inside, built a new organ on a screen over the crossing, more galleries over the choir and installed extra seating.
The Abbey as we know it is the work of Sir George Gilbert Scott, who from 1864 to 1874, completely transformed the inside of the Abbey to conform with his vision of Victorian Gothic architecture. His most significant contribution must surely be the replacement of the ancient wooden ceiling over the nave with the spectacular stone fan vaulting we see today.
To find out more, please explore our History pages.
We have tried to put together a brief history of the Abbey for you, however this is by no means comprehensive. Our hope is that you find it interesting, and are intrigued enough to visit.