Belief, Legend and Perceptions of the Sacred in Contemporary Bath

By Bowman, Marion | Folklore, Annual 1998 | Go to article overview

Belief, Legend and Perceptions of the Sacred in Contemporary Bath


Bowman, Marion, Folklore


For centuries Bath has exercised an attraction as a centre of religion, healing and pilgrimage. As the name implies, Bath contains hot water--to be precise it has three geothermal springs which emerge from the ground at temperatures between 42 and 47 degrees centigrade, at a rate of around 1.2 million litres per day.

The unique hot waters of Bath have attracted attention since prehistoric times as the hottest springs in Britain, and their powers have repeatedly been attributed to divine sources. The sacred symbolism of water is of course multivalent; purification, rebirth, healing, transition. It is often a vehicle of sacredness. The connections between water and religion, religion and healing have been both explicit and implicit in Bath's history. Sacred symbol and sacred substance are inextricably linked here. The hot springs, it has long been believed, come from, are in touch with, or have been touched by, the sacred.

In legend, Bath owes its foundation to King Bladud.(1) To summarise the best known current form of the legend (see Clark 1994, 44-7), Bladud was a prince who was banished from court on account of his leprosy. He settled in Swainswick, on the outskirts of what is now Bath, and obtained employment as a swine herd. He used to take his pigs to a place where hot spring water combined with earth to form an area of warm mud, in which the pigs loved to wallow. However, Bladud observed that pigs who went into the mud with skin diseases came out cured, so he decided to try the mud as a remedy for his leprosy. The cure was so successful that he returned to court, and became king on his father's death. He then made Bath his capital, establishing a great city there. Naturally, the city included baths using the hot springs, so that others might benefit from the water's curative properties.

The foundation legend of King Bladud's healing at Bath provides the stereotype of the city as a special, therapeutic location, a visit to which can heal and transform in both a medical and a metaphysical sense. Bath's status as a special or significant place is based on and legitimised by the hot springs. It is visited by over two million tourists each year. About 950,000 of them visit the Roman Baths, now administered as a heritage site, but many others come to Bath--as they have done for centuries--with the expectation of healing or some sort of spiritual experience.

Background

Before describing the present situation it will be helpful to give some brief background history of Bath and its springs. Prehistoric, Celtic Bath is much speculated upon, and the surrounding area is rich in ancient sites of religious and ritual interest. Stonehenge, Avebury, Stanton Drew and Glastonbury are all within easy travelling distance. Under the Romans, the waters were dedicated to the hybrid deity Sulis Minerva, a combination of the Roman Goddess of wisdom and healing, Minerva, and the Celtic deity Sul. The word "Sul" is usually translated as "gap, opening or orifice," the interface between this world and the otherworld, from whence the extraordinary hot waters emerge. The Roman name for Bath was Aquae Sulis.(2) In pre-Roman and Roman Bath the waters seem to have been a focus for contact with the sacred; many coins and other objects, including lead tablets on which blessings and curses were written, were found on the two occasions when the baths were drained for excavation. This blessing and cursing, as well as thanksgiving, show the association between the substance and the sacred; throwing gifts, blessings, or curses into the water, as it were, establishes a direct line to the deity. It is interesting to note that the earliest evidence of Christianity in Bath is generally taken to be a curse inscribed on lead calling down revenge on the perpetrator of a robbery, "whether pagan or Christian." In the great Roman complex of springs, temples and baths (which covered an area the size of two football pitches), religion, healing and recreation interacted. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Belief, Legend and Perceptions of the Sacred in Contemporary Bath
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.