Posted by: marymarthatours | August 8, 2014

Stitched Treasures in Bath Abbey

bath abbey07 sh

Since Bath Abbey was once a monastery church, it is Bath “Abbey”.  It is not a cathedral; that is where a bishop is located.  Yet Bath Abbey is as large and as impressive as most English cathedrals.

bath abbey07 ml4The Abbey was founded in the 7th century and was rebuilt in the 12th and 16th centuries with major restoration work done in the mid-19th century.  So, it is a mixture of architecture periods and styles.  It is one of the largest examples of Perpendicular Gothic architecture; however, it is atypical of that style for several reasons.   The beautiful fan vaulted nave ceiling which is a trademark of this style was added in the 19th century.  It is very dramatic with its fine ribbing details.

The Abbey, like Westminster Abbey, is jam packed with memorials covering the walls and floor stones.  A total of nearly 1500 in all.  The carvings on the West Front are unique and convey some particular messages.  But for me the real highlights are the textiles.  Many travelers last May went to the Abbey primarily to view the treasures I urged them to see.

First, there is the embroidery work of Jane Lemon and the Sarum Group.  This is a guild of embroiderers, founded in 1978, whose work is prominent at Salisbury, Wells, and Exeter Cathedrals as well as at Bath Abbey.  Jane, a textile and embroidery artist, is renowned for her designs and metal work.  The three altar frontals at Bath and the screen panel behind the altar in one chapel were created by Jane.  The main altar frontal most often in use is one with a fountain of three-dimensional layers of “flowing water” called the Trinity Frontal.  But because May was in the Easter season, the frontal we saw then was the Resurrection frontal.  You can especially appreciate the incredible workmanship of these pieces of textile art when you look closely at the layers of intricate stitches and metal work.

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Trinity frontal and Gethsemane chapel frontal

An even more recent acquisition for the Abbey is the work of Sue Symons, the 35 pairs of illuminations of New Testament scripture entitled, “One Man’s Journey to Heaven”.  Sue was inspired by the Book of Kells.  For each passage of scripture, one panel was created in calligraphy with Biblical text and art, and its partner panel in stitchery (patchwork, applique and embroidery) portrays the text in symbolic imagery and design.  All one can say is, “Amazing, WOW”.

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Two of the Bath Abbey Diptychs by Sue Symons

Here too, you need to look closely for all the details and variations.  It is impossible to pick a favorite.  The set is known as The Bath Abbey Diptychs.  They line the entire north wall of the Abbey.  It’s an interesting contrast of the old and new to see them placed in front of the old and ancient memorials that cover the walls.  And it’s great fun to listen to the comments of viewers as they take time to study each panel.


(by Martha)


Photo credits:  Bath Abbey, copyright Sue H., 2007; all other photos copyright Mary Wallace and Martha Liska



  1. How beautiful! I’ve been impressed by the textiles (including some ancient vestments) at Salisbury Cathedral, too. I remember one enormous, flowing silk banner there hanging in the ceiling center near the west entry. I think it was painted, but might have been appliqued and it rippled with the slightest air currents.

  2. Click on each individual picture to enlarge it and see the details better. Enjoy.

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