Colin Crosby Heritage Tours

Coventry Cathedral (Coventry)

The cathedral of St. Michael is the magnificent building in Coventry which took the place of the cathedral destroyed during the Second World War.

Its predecessor, a parish church since the 14th century and a cathedral only since 1918, was gutted by bombs during the awful three nights suffered by Coventry in 1940. Only the West tower and spire, and some walls, remained. The spire, at 295 feet, is the third highest in England.

The distinguished architect Sir Basil Spence was chosen to create a new cathedral. His building is unequivocally and brilliantly of the 20th century, and was consecrated on 25th May 1962.

The side walls alternate between glass and solid wall, at an angle to each other, so that all the lighting is directed onto the High Altar.

John Piper designed the great Baptistry window, beneath which the font is made from a boulder brought from Bethlehem.

In place of a reredos and East window is Graham Sutherland's seventy foot tapestry, Christ in Glory.

Helen Jennings created a sculpture entitled "Christ Crucified", from the wreckage of a car, and this is another feature of this amazing place, which in addition to being a major place of worship functions as a contemporary art gallery.

Elisabeth Frink made the bronze eagle on the lectern, and the crucifix on the pulpit.

On the outer wall, close to the entrance, is Jacob Epstein's huge figure of the Archangel Michael at the moment of his triumph over the Devil.

Beside the new cathedral are the ruins of the old. It would have been possible to demolish the ruins, or even to rebuild, but it was decided to leave them in place as a demonstration of the futility of war, but more importantly as a symbol of reconciliation.

In the aftermath of the destruction, Jock Forbes, the cathedral's stonemason, saw that two charred timbers had fallen across each other. He tied them together and placed them in the sanctuary ruins, with the added words "Father, forgive". At the same time, another local priest, Rev Arthur Wales, bound together three huge mediaeval nails to create the Cross of Nails.

Also within the ruins is another piece by Epstein, "Ecce Homo", depicting Christ bound before Pilate and wearing the Crown of Thorns.

And a statue by Josefina de Vasconcellos depicts the reconciliation of two human figures. She created it when she was 90 years old. The statue was presented to the cathedral by Richard Branson in 1995, to mark the 50th anniversary of the end of the Second World War.

An identical cast was presented by the people of Coventry to the Peace Garden in Hiroshima.

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