Imagine being a homesick Roman soldier, yearning for the sunshine and warmth of Italy. Serving the emperor on the edge of the empire (Britain), you are cold, wet, and sick of the dismal gray days. About 97 miles west of Londinium (London) you come across a source of bubbling, hot water, pouring out of the ground — a natural hot spring, the only one in Britain! It would seem like a gift from the gods — or more precisely a gift from Minerva Sulis, the goddess of wisdom to whom the hot baths and temple complex that would be built was dedicated.
Today we call the city that grew up around this natural hot spring, Bath. Of course.
I last visited the museum of the Roman Baths in 2000. Since then it has been completely renovated. You can walk through a well thought out route with a fascinating audio-guide that takes you through the entire archeological complex. I saw many interesting models of the baths and temples as the Romans would have experienced them. I walked through the actual temple site, including altar stones, as it has been excavated, as well as the elaborate series of baths. The baths would have started with tepid water, moved on to hot water (or a sauna like room), and ended with a cold water plunge, if the ancient Roman dared! As the guide said, the entire area was like a recreation center (or health club) and a large cathedral (or mega-church!) combined, with probably hundreds of people of all ages visiting each day.
Since one of my themes for this blog in 2017 is living water, this exhibit was fascinating! The hot water still pours out at a huge volume here in Bath — you can still see the original hot spring area as well as watch the water pour through drains the Romans created to channel the water back into the river Avon. I even dared to drink some of the waters, thought to be so healthful for thousands of years!
Of course, this is the same natural hot springs that made Bath a destination, especially in the 18th and early 19th century, for those suffering from any health issues. People would come and “take the waters” which included both bathing in them as well as drinking them!
Unlike Winifride’s Well in Holywell, Wales, Bath was never taken as a Christian holy site. The most common pilgrims here in Bath are Janeites — or those peculiarly obsessed fans of Jane Austen who come to walk the streets where Jane walked and find the many places in Bath that she mentions in her novels!