Pagan shrine, Roman Temple, convent, monastic abbey… royal patronage and the coronation of the first historical King of All England … a Norman church…right through the Victorian restorations to today… Bath Abbey has been a site of worship for far longer than the records can tell.
You can feel it. To those who believe there is only One, regardless of the name or rite we humans choose for Deity, it does not matter which faith now occupies this spot. What matters is the faith of all those who turn their eyes and hearts to something greater than our own little lives and seek to find a way to grow closer to that higher vision.
To the builders of these great Abbey churches, the raising of the very stone itself was an act of faith and worship… indeed, given some of the early methods of laying foundations, it can only be an act of faith to expect them to stand and survive… yet they have.
Graffiti spans the centuries, carved into stone. We who are now privileged to walk within forests of columns and fan arches that spread overhead like the branches of the tree of life, get to glimpse a part of the living history of these buildings and the people who have walked within these walls.
Norman columns a thousand years old can be glimpsed beneath the iron grilles of the floor. Delicate stitching and quilted embroidery… art and craft combined… focus the eye on the altar of the side chapels…
… a very modern sticky note marks the chapter for the sermon. It is the people and their stories…individual and collectively, that bring these buildings to life. The story in stone is our story.
The names of the great and good…and sometimes the not-so-good, line the walls, grace the windows and are carved into the floor upon which we tread.
Their tombs and memorials offer a glimpse of how well they were regarded… what their social status may have been… whether they were loved and missed…or whether their own ego was the driving force that led them through life. Or sometimes they do not tell, but only ask the question.
Whatever the answer, they are remembered now in a place of delicate beauty and deceptive simplicity. For all the art and workmanship, for all the carvings and craft, the flood of light through countless windows make this place feel as quiet as a chapel.
Perhaps it is the contrast of dark wood, tiles and worn stone that keep the feet rooted on earth while the eyes are drawn ever-higher by the towering pillars and tall windows…
There is something about the warmth of the wood, worn light in places with decades of contact with those who have sat in contemplation and prayer…
…something almost homely that speaks of firesides and candlelight and family. Yet that same wood is carved and decorated, stretching in long lines through the body of the church, lending a richness and grandeur to the earthly level where we can walk.
Above our heads, choirs of angels sing and play, their wings outstretched in a flight we have get to attain… or realise we already share. And higher still, stone flows in impossibly delicate curves between jewelled walls of glass and light.
Whatever our personal beliefs may be, to visit such a place where faith has inspired the hand, heart and vision of man, is to touch a human story. Whether such buildings were designed for political effect, to impress and demonstrate the power of the Church, or simply to the glory of their god, you still see the hand and eye of craftsman and artist in every corner, and even in majesty, the reflections of the lives of our forefathers and our kin linger… even if it is only in a scrap of grafitti or a post-it note.