What’s That Got To Do With Bath…?
22 July 2017
Two bronze lions guard the gates to Victoria Park; the mascot of Bath Rugby is Maximus the lion; there are random lion statues (one blue mosaicked one near the Abbey) dotted around Bath. Bath has over 500 images of lions in and around the city, but what have lions got to do with Bath?
Lions have been the symbol of royal England for nine hundred years, and they became forever linked with Bath after the first King of all England, King Edgar, was crowned in Bath in 973AD. A lion also features on Bath’s coat of arms, reflecting the royal heritage of the city, alongside…
Pigs are another animal that’s long been associated with Bath. The legend goes that around 863BC, prince Bladud contracted leprosy while studying in Athens and on his return home he left court - unable to take the throne, and became a swineherd. His pigs unfortunately also contracted his disease.
However, when they came to the area that is now Bath, the pigs rolled in the hot mud around Bath’s springs while looking for acorns and Bladud saw that their leprosy was soon cured. Bladud followed suit, bathed in the mud, was also cured, returned to take the throne and then, to show his gratitude, founded the city of Bath; dedicating its curative powers to the Celtic goddess Sul.
The Gorgon’s Head
Archaeologists have been able to work out that this stone carving would have been in the centre of the ornamental pediment, which stood at the entrance of the great temple beside the Baths. It’s survived incredibly well given how it’s nearly two thousand years old! So hardly surprising that it’s become a key symbol of Bath. The reason the Roman’s chose a Gorgon’s head in the first place though was because it was a key symbol of the goddess Sulis Minerva. Which brings us neatly to…
The head of Sulis Minerva
Aquae Sulis was the Roman name for Bath and literally means “waters of Sul”. The Romans dedicated their temple to the nourishing, life-giving mother goddess Sulis Minerva (some think she is a combination of the Celtic goddess Sul and the Roman goddess Minerva) and erected a huge statue to her within their temple. The gilt bronze head of this statue survives to this day. It was found in 1727, and is so remarkable, not only because of its artistic merit, but also because only two other gilt bronze statues from Roman times have ever been found on Britain.
The symbol in the floor
At the junction of Bath Street and Stall Street (just beside the exit from the Roman Baths) there’s a large bronze symbol set into the cobbles. It pops up on keyrings, websites, and lots of other Bath-related items and media. The reason is because it’s the World Heritage Symbol, which commemorates the City of Bath’s addition onto the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1987. At this point the city was identified as “a masterpiece of human creative genius whose protection must be the concern of all.” Not bad going, considering that the only other two cities in the world to hold this accolade are The Vatican and Venice!