The Roman Baths and All of Their Attendant Charms  

Posted by Heidi

 Bath:  as it turns out, it is one of my favorite places on earth.  I suspected that I would quite like it as it is a true Regency-era town.  By that I mean it is full of Georgian architecture, the building style that dominated the Regency period.  Beau Nash is the man responsible for this very popular architectural style and he, along with Beau Brummel (the doyen of Regency fashion) and the Prince Regent, created the "Regency" with their bare hands . . . er, personal style.  By the time Prince George, known as "Prinny", took over the reins of the kingdom as regent, Bath had become relegated to the oldsters while the young and fashionable flocked to Brighton.  And yet, Bath was still a popular watering hole for the declasse.  Jane Austen, along with her family, lived at 4 Sydney Place in Bath for approximately four years.  (I am in no way implying that Jane and her family were declasse.  Having said that, Brighton was not in their budget.) 

Prior to disembarking, we were instructed that Bath is not pronounced in the same way we speak of our bathrooms at home.  It is said as if you are a sheep.  (Baa-baa black sheep have you any bread?)  (Unless you are a Liverpudlian, in which case you would pronounce it the same way Americans say bath-as-in-tub.  And yet, said Liverpudlian (if you are from LiverPOOL you are a LiverPUDlian--pool, puddle, get it?) bathes in a "baff"-rhymes-with-staff.  Go figure.) We got off the coach at Bath Abbey.  There was so much to see as we milled about waiting for instructions.  The cartouches on this building are absolutely scrumptious.  No riot of flowers required, this understated, spread out display is staidly perfect.

Bath Abbey is a stunning edifice.  Technically it is known as the Abbey Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul.  Founded in the 7th century, it enjoyed reorganization, rebuilding and major shoring up in the 10th, 12th, 16th and 19th centuries.  It sports a stunning array of symbolic sculpture.  Seeing as I am a short, blind(ish) woman armed with a point and shoot camera with surprising range, I took many photos.  Sadly, I have not been able to find any information online as to what all of these objects mean (outside of religious devotion).  

I particularly wish I knew which king dwells above the front portals.  Based on how he looks, my guess is King Henry the Third who reigned for most of the 1200's.  We were lucky in that we were there on the same day that the students of one school/college/university or another were celebrating their commencement ceremonies at the abbey.   Hence, there were many, many people wandering about whilst looking very English and collegiate and, dare I say, relieved.  

As such, I began to point my camera mostly upwards/above head-level.  

As per the usual, I was blown away by all of the sculpture and detail.  

The unknown king, again.  Maybe some of my British friends will identify him for me.  (He is very handsome.)  (I'm talkin' 'bout the king.) 

Ah, so many "Satan bobbles"  designed to keep the devil from sliding down into the church.  

Mostly I am intrigued by the heart in the circle of rope surrounded by all of those scrolled banners.  It seems so different and out of place from the other carvings around it.  

The enlargement reveals two pierced feet and two pierced hands encircling the rope, so I believe it is safe to assume that the heart represents that of Christ.  (I am perturbed by the lack of a head but I'm trying not to think about it.) The above photo also reveals some interesting Crusader symbols on the shield. Crusading was hugely popular during the 1100's, the century in which this building first went up.  

There are Georgian row houses to the left of the abbey.  What a view they must afford!

There are some lovely little angels climbing a ladder on the right.  The sculptor in the center of the Gothic window is of a man in Crusader style clothing.  The sculpture on the left is enlarged below to reveal . . . 

. . . a tree and a crown topped by a bishop's mitre.  (I am so impressed with myself that I knew this b/c I am not Catholic.  Just to be sure, I investigated and sure enough, popes do not wear mitres.  One exception is Pope Benedict XVI who broke with tradition and replaced the papal tiara with a mitre.) I suspect there is more to know about these symbols but I have not yet found any specific info.

There are some famous people in this photo.  Well, famous in certain circles. They were on our tour group with us.  Give me a shout out if you recognize anyone.  

At this point, we were all standing in line, waiting to enter the Roman Baths.  This building is pretty darn close to the abbey.  This is something we just don't see in the U.S.  We have enough room to stretch things out a bit.  At the time these structures were built, it made a lot of sense to have everything close together.  There wasn't a lot of space to begin with, everything needed to fit within the city walls for protection, and few people had transportation--certainly nothing that moved very fast. (So, yes, it makes sense, but it is still so very strange to this California girl.)

It was not terribly bright in this part of the "baths".  It is a gorgeous reception area known as the visitor entrance, added in 1897, complete with stunning ceilings which I dutifully attempted to document.  The lack of light was a bit of a problem.  

I do so love this one with its tinge of pink on the right. It isn't really pink--my camera just made it so.  (She loves me.)

This grainy photo is a bit of a coup.  See what it looked like coming out of my camera.  (She hates me.)

I could, quite happily, have lain (pretty sure that's correct but don't quote me) on the floor of this room and stared up at this ceiling for the better part of my life.

We walked through the reception area, somehow missing the Pump room which is the room I most wanted to see since that is where all of the witty chit-chat happened amongst the society people who were dressed and drinking the water rather than undressed and bathing in it (precluding witty repartee, or one can only assume--I hear the water tastes awful--and, no, we did not taste it) to emerge into the open air where we had new views of the abbey.

Most of these Romanesque statues were added after the Regency era by the Victorians, enthusiastic revivalists that they were.

Each of the column pedestals to the left is of a different animal.  That's dedication.  

The statues are on the upper level (the terrace) and so we are looking down from a great height to get this view of the actual Bath water.  Nothing from the pedestals up were present during the Regency, the time period with which I am most interested.  However, these baths have been here since Roman times.  

I was fairly enamoured of this bridge.  I took its photo numerous times.  

Bright blue seems to be the color of choice for England.  If something needs a lick of paint, this Tiffany Blue is the one.  I confess that it is lovely and really brightens things up. 

The urns, the elephant pedestal, the scrolls:  it's the little things that make a house a home. 

View of the abbey from the baaaa-ths.  

The complex includes a museum.  In it one can find this partial pediment from the original temple featuring what is known as the Bladud Gorgon.  Or the water god, Oceanus.  Or a Celtic sun god.  It all depends on whom you ask.  

There is so much history here that I feel overwhelmed by it.  If you are interested, I urge you to read up on the baths and their surroundings.  One factoid I feel compelled to share is this:  about 130 curse tablets have been found in the area, many of them relating to the thefts of clothes whilst the owner was bathing.  

It was a day of alternating clouds and sunshine.  The golden stone against a true blue sky is a sight to behold.  Next time:  the oh-so-charming city of Bath.  

This entry was posted on Thursday, September 24, 2015 at Thursday, September 24, 2015 . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .

1 wise, witty and wonderful comments

Ooh, shivers when I read about the "curse tablets"! Another wonderful post, Heidi - I am SO enjoying travelling with you. Hope you won't mind if I pin a few of your photos on my "Beautiful places, beautiful things" board. Lovely.

September 25, 2015 at 6:44 AM

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