Albion, ancient sites, Art, Don and Wen

Inside Bath Abbey

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I had a nasty feeling about Bath Abbey… just how on earth was I supposed to capture everything on camera to share the beauty of the place… ? It is huge…tall…airy…

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…as if  its builders wanted to capture the light of their heaven and carry the pilgrim ever   upwards…

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Yet, at the same time, it is glowing with colour. Fifty two windows, tier after tier of both plain glass and stained, make up eighty percent of the walls. The light is the first thing that strikes you when you walk in. If I had to sum up the initial impression in a single word, I would say ‘clarity’.

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There is also memory… carved memorials cover the walls and floors, some simple, some as ornate as you can imagine. Nearly fifteen hundred of them, covering hundreds of years… both residents and visitors who loved Bath; ordinary folk, clergymen and those whose names have touched history, both worldwide and, like Beau Nash, within the city itself.

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For all the light and airy feel, the more intimate spaces of the Abbey still nestle in a silent shadow more conducive to contemplation of the sacred. The little chapels and the font seem almost set apart from the grandeur of Scott’s restorations.

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There is a peace about them, and in spite of their ornate beauty, an indefinable air of simplicity that cannot be seen, only felt…as if the faith of the faithful hangs in the air around them, defying the outer form and knowing only the essence if its intent.

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Behind the baptismal font that welcomes new life into the Church, countless memorials seem to marry past, present and future in an unbroken line of worship.

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Close to the High Altar, a small, enclosed chapel of frozen stone offers sanctuary an oasis of peace, even when the Abbey is otherwise busy.

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In the south transept  a towering Dream of Jesse window by Clayton & Bell, 1872, commemorates the recovery from typhoid of the prince who would become King Edward VII, and also serves as a memorial to Robert Scott.

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Like the great windows at East and West, it is too high, too big, too vast to see and encompass… and it was only the recumbent figure that told me the story it portrayed. The other windows, beneath the vaulting of the aisles, seem more accessible.

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If I have a personal favourite, it is the scene from the Last Supper window by Burlison & Grylls c.1914, where the Magdalene anoints the feet of Jesus while he teaches the eleven disciples. She weeps as she dries His feet with her hair.

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Above the altar, fifty six scenes from the life of Jesus are depicted in great detail. What is as amazing as the sheer scale of this window is to realise that this, along with many others, were shattered during WWII by bomb blasts… one fragment travelled to Canada in the pocket of an airman… yet to look at the Abbey today, you would never know the chequered past it has seen and survived.

 

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