Image a moonlit night in Bath, England…a devilishly handsome rake dressed in his finest black and white suit…a public bath in the middle of the city with mist gently rising off the dark waters.
A whispered dare is glibly given.
And a lovely but painfully proper Regency lady on the verge of spinsterhood accepts the challenge and jumps at the chance to taste freedom for the first time in her life. She wiggles out of her gown, and jumps—literally jumps—into hot water.
That’s exactly what happens in Cerridwen Press’s historical romance, LADY IONA’S REBELLION (June 2007).
But Lady Iona isn’t the first to toss aside her inhibitions and put her fate in the hands of Bath’s mystical waters. According to archeological evidence, the natural hot springs located in the Avon Valley have captured man’s imagination since prehistoric hunters chased game through the emerald-colored wooded hills. Revered as sacred by every civilization to inhabit the area, these springs have played a major role in shaping the development of the City of Bath.
Rainwater flowing into the Avon Valley from the surrounding hills sink deep into the earth’s crust through a fault line that runs beneath the City of Bath. The water takes some 6,000 years to make its journey and be forced back up to the surface through fissures in the limestone crust. The ancient rainwater is now rust colored and steaming with heat as it bubbles up from one of Bath’s three springs. It’s also teeming with more than forty minerals, including calcium, sodium, and iron, which gives the water its distinctive ruddy color and bitter flavor.
The largest of the three springs, the Sacred Spring, pumps around 250,000 gallons of water per day and reaches an average temperature of 115º F (46º C). This spring supplies the public King’s Bath where our daring heroine agreed to take the midnight dip that changed her life..
There’s a long history of people’s lives being forever changed for the better when bathing in the mystical hot springs.
The most well known (and fanciful) is the legend of Bladud, father to King Lear. Once heir to the throne, Bladud was banished from his home and forced to make his way as a swineherd after he contracted leprosy. Life as he knew it was in ruins. And to make matters worse, soon his pigs, too, fell victim to the highly contagious disease. But one day Bladud happened upon a lush valley where his pigs wallowed in the warm, oozy mud of the springs. The swine were miraculously cured. Bladud tested the waters himself and discovered that the hot, ruddy red spring waters indeed had the ability to cure leprosy. A new man, he returned to his father’s lands to claim is rightful place as king and immediately moved his court to Bath to build his capital.
Though Bladud’s tale of how he discovered the beneficial spring waters was wildly popular during the Regency period, the curative properties of these waters were well known by the ancient Celtics, who for more than 2,000 years tossed coins into the springs as offerings to Sulis, the life-giving mother goddess of the hot spring who guarded the connection between the sunlit world and the Otherworld.
When the Romans invaded in 43 AD, they merged Celtic beliefs with their own, as was typical of the Romans at that time. And created a new deity that was a hybrid of the Celtic goddess and their own Minerva. To celebrate this new goddess, Sulis Minerva, the goddess of the springs as well as the Roman goddess of healing and wisdom, they built an elaborate bath and temple complex.
A large city grew up around the spa and temples, and the Romans bathed in the restorative waters. Like the Celtics before them, they tossed gold, silver, bronze, and brass coins, jewelry, engraved gemstones, and metal vessels into the pool of water as offerings to Sulis Minerva. And they carved curses onto lead sheets called defixiones imploring the goddess to make sure terrible things befell those who wronged them in some way.
When the Romans retreated in the 5th century, the town and its monuments were nearly completely destroyed by repeated attacks by Saxon raiders. By the 10th century most of the Roman buildings and street patterns were gone. A new town had begun to develop around the sacred springs again, beginning with an Anglo-Saxon monastery built near the steaming waters. The town, now called Bath for the first time, was again catching the attention of the powerful and elite.
During the Elizabethan and Georgian periods, royalty and the aristocracy descended on the city in the summer to take advantage of the curative waters for a wide range of ailments including rheumatism, paralysis, gout, and barrenness in women.
Of course a degree of propriety had to be upheld at all times. Bathers wore heavy costumes that would cover the body from neck to ankle. And men were expected to keep to one side of the bath and women to the other.
The popularity of Bath diminished during the Regency period. The Regent (George IV) favored the seaside city of Brighton. And where the Regent went, society followed. Yet a small number of aristocrats still made their way to the quaint city in the Avon Valley every summer, hoping to find their own miracles in the steamy waters of Bath.
Award winning Regency and romantic suspense author, Dorothy McFalls, hopes readers will give her dive into her historical romance releases, including LADY IONA’S REBELLION from Cerridwen Press and LADY SOPHIE’S MIDNIGHT SEDUCTION from Whispers Publishing. Look for reviews, excerpts, and short stories at Dorothy’s website: www.dorothymcfalls.com.
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