The History Behind Bath Abbey

Bath Abbey from the Outside

Just last week, I was given the opportunity to take a field trip and spend the day in the old Roman city of Bath.  This small city was quaint, beautiful, and well preserved.  The people who work in Bath’s historical sites seem to care for and preserve this old city’s buildings and rituals as well as they can.  After touring through Bath Abbey and the Roman Bath House, I was able to see multiple buildings the Romans built up to two thousand years ago; one in particular that is centralized around religion and caught my eye.

A central attraction that I viewed in this old city is Bath Abbey.  Bath Abbey is a Catholic Church that has many distinct qualities unique to Catholicism.  Many of these aspects were intriguing for me to notice because they are quite different from Judaism, the religion I identify with.  Bath Abbey is a Roman Catholic Church that currently stands, however it is the third church built in this location since 757 AD.    Before Bath Abbey, an Anglo-Saxon Abbey Church was first constructed followed by a Norman cathedral. The Bath Abbey has occupied this religious space in Bath ever since.  As part of a city that was created by the Romans, this Catholic Church has been standing since 1499 and has been occupied since 1616.  As a place of worship for people who practice Catholicism, this Abbey has numerous differences and some similarities to other religious buildings I am familiar with.

Peninsula Temple Sholom from the Inside

The main similarity I found between Bath Abbey and my temple, Peninsula Temple Sholom, that was built in the 1950s, was the lighting and the indoor atmosphere.  I was pleased and surprised to see how well lit Bath Abbey was in comparison to the other churches and cathedrals I have observed in England., In comparison to St. Martin in the Fields and Peninsula Temple Sholom, but in contrast to the West London Synagogue, Bath Abbey was illuminated with windows and relatively bright.  With the use of light-colored stone and wood, large open windows, high ceilings, and chandeliers, Bath Abbey appeared brighter and livelier.  On the other spectrum, the West London Synagogue represented more Byzantine architecture, built with smaller windows, dark stained glass, and dark, bold colors.  The Byzantine architecture and designs made the West London Synagogue seem dark and unwelcoming.  I would prefer to gather, learn, and practice my religion at a venue full of light and open space like Bath Abbey or my own Peninsula Temple Sholom.  The light atmosphere of Bath Abbey was welcoming and made me feel comfortable to occupy and observe.

Tombstone inside Bath Abbey

A difference between Bath Abbey and Peninsula Temple Sholom that struck me immediately was the presence of a buried man.  As a Jew, I am unfamiliar with the Catholic custom of burying people anywhere besides underground or being cremated, so seeing a tombstone next to an aisle in Bath Abbey was a new experience for me.  Another thing I noticed in the Christian religion by visiting Westminster Abbey was that this is an act of respect. However, Jewish people do not bury people in Jewish synagogues, rather Jews are buried underground in cemeteries.  I think this difference in ways of caring for the deceased is interesting and I admire both religions’ respect for those who have passed in their desired ways.

Bath Abbey Bell

Bath Abbey Clock

Another difference is the bell tower and clock.  My temple, and other Jewish temples, do not have bells to ring for telling time or clocks for the community to view.  Although I love my Jewish traditions, I find it absolutely wonderful that the people of Bath preserve the bells and clock in Bath Abbey.  I love how they take pride in their past by providing full tours of the Abbey and allow visitors to hike up their 212 steps to observe the original bells and clock.  Being so high up and getting to view these historical objects is interesting.  The darkness of the rooms, old smell of the ropes, and replaced windows surrounding the clock were fantastic artifacts to see. This experience gave me a greater understanding of what it would have been like to be the bell ringer or person who would fix the clock some two thousand years ago.

Learning about Bath Abbey, a Catholic Church of Victorian Gothic architecture, was very different from any other religious experience I have had.  As a main attraction built hundreds of years before my temple was built, Bath Abbey holds a special history that differs from the recent history of my synagogue, Peninsula Temple Sholom.  Neither building is less spectacular or less important than the other based on the differences I noticed.  However, by learning about and observing numerous sites of various religions, I am broadening my knowledge of religious differences throughout the world.  Reform Judaism and Catholicism are quite dissimilar, but the qualities that make these two faiths unique are intriguing and remarkable.  Bath Abbey is a place of worship that holds multiple historical treasures and is preserved by people who truly care about its history.  I thoroughly enjoyed my tour through Bath and its Abbey as well as the Roman Bath House and old streets.

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One thought on “The History Behind Bath Abbey

  1. Hello – I am very glad you enjoyed visiting Bath Abbey (I am a Tower Tour Guide there, and also Ringing Master and a member of the Parochial Church Council), but please not that the Abbey is not Roman Catholic but Anglican. Also the style of the architecture is Perpendicular Gothic, with a few Victorian alterations and additions.

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