Bath Abbey enters a new year with the ‘trial’ excavation of the north aisle completed and the new underfloor heating – in that section of the church – doing its job.
This whole exercise was driven by the discovery of cavities under the floor of the church.
Hallowed ground containing the remains of at least six thousand individuals and an area where their decay has created pockets which threaten the integrity of the floor above.
Next April the Abbey will hear whether it has been successful in securing hefty financial support from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
If the money is forthcoming it means the north aisle trial can be gradually extended across the whole floor area. A lengthy and costly process in which every memorial stone will have to be recorded and – hopefully – later re-laid.
The new underfloor central heating system will then be fuelled by the thermal waters from the King’s Bath spring nearby. A former ‘sacred’ spring still supplying a spiritual warmth.
Aside from the Abbey Project – which also includes improved facilities and additional space – the work will mean the removal of the 19th century pews from the nave and there is a big debate underway about whether they should be re-instated afterwards.
Clearing them away would return the church to its historical original look and also – with the use of chairs – make it flexible and adaptable to events would could help provide additional income.
Tradition might be on the side of retaining the pews. They bring people together, allow easier kneeling and support for the elderly.
They protect the memorial stones beneath them and are all anyone can remember when it comes to the layout of the Abbey.
It has to be quickly said that the temporary chairs brought in during very busy recent weeks were borrowed just to provide additional seating for the many extra people Christmas brings into the Abbey.
If chairs are deemed to be the long-term answer then a lot of thought will go into researching flexible seating in other churches and then deciding what style best suits Bath.
You can pop into the cafe of St Michael’s Without – just up the road – and see one form of seating which seems to work very well.
There is a more padded type of chair set out for those attending church services.
If you want to look further afield then head over to Wells Cathedral to gaze upon rows and rows of these.
While this is the type of flexible seating laid out at Salisbury Cathedral.
Those who oppose pew removal point out how labour intensive putting chairs out will be and how much more cleaning will be needed around them.
There is also the question of once protected ledger stones now being subjected to increased footfall and scraping chair legs.
Thought l would even show you a layout from the other side of the Atlantic. Here is the National Cathedral in Washington DC.
Let’s hear a few more thoughts on the subject from the man who leads the Abbey Project – it’s Director, Charles Curnock.
I asked him with so many churches seeming to make the change – what were the advantages of chairs over pews?