Bath and Wells, Ancient See of

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The ancient see of Bath and Wells was a medieval Catholic diocese coterminous with the County of Somerset, England, in the ecclesiastical province of canter bury; it was formed by the union of the ancient Abbey of bath and the church of canons regular at Wells, Somerset, England. The original Diocese of Wells was founded in 909 with the appointment of Aethelhelm as bishop; Bishop Gisa (106088) made an important contribution to its establishment in the transitional period from the Old English state to the early Norman settlement. But the transfer of the episcopal seat to Bath by John de Villula (John of Tours) in 1090 interrupted this development. A dispute between the canons of Wells and the monks of Bath reached a crisis under Bp. Roger of Lewes (113666) and was temporarily settled by a papal ruling that both places should thenceforth be episcopal sees, both chapters sharing in the bishop's election; but that the prior of Bath should formally announce the election, and the bishop's enthronement should take place in both churches, but first in Bath. This precedence for Bath continued, and Bp. savaric of bath (11921205) set up a see in glastonbury abbey in 1197, and for a short time the diocese was subsequently known as Bath and Glastonbury, until the arrangement was dissolved by Pope honorius iii in 1219. The death of Bp. jocelin of wells in 1242 precipitated a final settlement, again by papal judgment, which reasserted the principle of joint election and established the title of Bath and Wells. This title survived the Reformation, though after the monastic dissolution the abbey church at Bath became a parish church and the Anglican episcopal seat was maintained at Wells alone. The last Catholic bishop was Gilbert bourne, who was deprived by Queen elizabeth i in 1559.

The abbey at Bath was rebuilt in the late Perpendicular style in the early 16th century. The Gothic cathedral at Wells evolved through several stages: the Norman cathedral of Robert of Lewes was replaced by Bp. Reginald Fitz Jocelin (117491), whose plans were brought to completion by Bp. Jocelin of Wells (120642); the tower with the famous inverted columns beneath it, the chapter house, and the lady chapel were added in the early 14th century.

Bibliography: f. m. powicke and c. r. cheney, eds., Councils and Synods (Oxford 1964) 2.1: 4446, 586626. The Victoria History of the County of Somerset, ed. w. page, v. 2 (London 1911) 139. a. h. thompson, The Cathedral Churches of England (London 1925). k. edwards, The English Secular Cathedrals in the Middle Ages (Manchester 1949). d. falconer, Bath Abbey (Stroud 1999) h. e. reynolds, ed. Wells Cathedral: Its Foundation, Constitutional History, and Statutes (Leeds 1881). l. s. colchester, Wells Cathedral: A History (Wells 1996).

[c. duggan]