I was here in Bath for almost a week before I stepped into the abbey. As with most European abbeys and cathedrals, Bath Abbey dominates the city. You can see it from most anywhere. Its magnitude and beauty are outstanding.
I’m drawn to churches, just as I’m drawn to cemeteries. I love the reverential quiet and how these places are dedicated to memory (after all, I’m a memoirist).
So why did I wait several days to enter the abbey?
I was afraid.
Afraid of the magnitude. Afraid of the beauty. Afraid of the scale. I think I feared being swallowed up by something so grand. Have you ever seen anything so beautiful that it frightened you? I was afraid of what emotion might rise up within me. I needed to be in the right frame of mind to enter. I don’t think the abbey or places like it are ones you should enter without any forethought. You have to steel yourself against the magnificence.
I attended morning prayer service today, Ash Wednesday. The abbey offers a morning and evening prayer each day. I walked to a little chapel area off the main altar a few minutes before 8:30 a.m. A man sat there, reading the prayer book, a woman a couple of seats behind him. The entire chapel sat only about 8-10 people, but we were the only three there. I took a seat opposite the man and woman. The prayer book was opened to the words we were to recite.
At precisely 8:30 a.m., the woman started the service. I hadn’t taken a good look at her when I entered, so I had neglected to notice the clerical collar and black outfit. Her voice took me by surprise. I’m used to a clergy making an entrance into the worship space but here, she blended in among us.
It took me a few minutes to settle in; this was not my usual worship space. But then a great calm came over me. I recognized that this space has held worshippers for more then 500 years, and what has changed? The abbey has gone through structural changes in that time, but more or less it has stood for centuries as a place to worship and acknowledge God. We simply don’t have those types of places in the States, and I wish we did. But then again, maybe I would be too afraid to enter them.