A new focus for Bath Abbey

Change is afoot at Bath Abbey and it’s getting mixed reviews.

The church’s Footprint Project – which will use Heritage Lottery money to fund stabilising the floor, provide new heating and extra space for church activities – could mean saying goodbye to the Victorian pews in the nave.

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During the work it will also involve bringing the altar activities – at the east end – down into the body of the Abbey.

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The temporary dais on ‘trial’ at Bath Abbey.

Though this might be seen as a temporary feature, the church is trying various arrangements of staging blocks – in the centre of the Abbey – to lead services on a more permanent level.

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An artist’s impression of the possible new elliptical dais.

Currently, architects have produced an elliptical shaped dais which is two steps  high. I hear it might even be pneumatically operated to rise up out of the otherwise level floor when needed. Two pews have been temporarily lifted which will be put back when the trial is finished.

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Pews removed to make way for the trial dais. In a few years time all of the nave pews are due to be taken out.

The Abbey is asking for comments and it is my understanding they are getting plenty.

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Looking towards the temporary dais and the nave beyond.

I cannot help but think of the layout of Clifton Cathedral in Bristol. It’s obviously a more contemporary take on a congregational gathering for worship, but the spiritual ‘stage’ for church ritual is slap bang in the middle.

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Clifton Cathedral in Bristol.

So l welcome any move to bring things down to the people so worship can be truly shared. The  proposed eventual removal of the pews gives the Abbey a real opportunity of  finding a new focus.

Traditionally, before the Reformation, the Abbey would have been an empty space. Pews have been gradually introduced over the centuries and, in the Abbey’s case, reached their pinnacle under Sir George Gilbert Scott during Victorian times.

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One of those side benches you still find in churches like Bath Abbey. Once the only seating the congregational space would have offered.

Did you know the saying ‘Going to the wall’ refers to the fact that centuries ago the elderly or disabled could find little resting benches lining the walls of the otherwise empty church.

Meanwhile, the church is hosting a touring exhibition of ‘Via Crucis’, a series of 14 new images for the Stations of the Cross by Bath artist Caroline Waterlow.

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More of Caroline Waterlow’s designs.

‘Via Crucis’ is described by the artist as “a culmination of three years’ of research and work into the meaning and significance of Lent, and how it can relate in our lives today.”

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Another design by Caroline Waterlow.

Through these images, you are invited to follow the final events of Jesus’ life as he goes to the place of his crucifixion and death.

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You can follow the ‘stations’ around the church.

To complement the exhibition, there will be an opportunity to look at the Stations in more detail, using scripture, poetry, song, prayer and meditation, on Wednesdays 22th, 29th March & 5th April, 7.30-9pm and on Good Friday 14th April, 12 noon.

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A crown of thorns design by local artist Caroline Waterlow.