Saturday, 11 August 2012

Coventry Cathedral

When our children were young we nearly always went on holiday somewhere in Britain such as Scotland, Wales, the Lake District, Devon etc. We couldn’t afford to go abroad and our son had a heart defect so we didn’t risk leaving Britain. However with the family grown up for the past 15 years we have got into the habit of going to the Mediterranean with my daughter and her family to get some almost guaranteed sunshine. We kept thinking we’d go back to tripping around the UK when we were older and either couldn’t afford the trips abroad or perhaps when our health wasn’t up to it. 

However last summer I started thinking that there were so many different places in the UK that I have never been to and it was maybe about time we started to visit them. Time could be running out, who knows!

We both hate driving so I looked at the idea of a bus trip. Not everybody’s cup of tea (& definitely not my husband's) but with the price of petrol nowadays it seemed like a good idea at the time. I found one to the Cotswolds that was unbelievably cheap for 4 days so I booked it.

We travelled to Coventry and stayed at a hotel there for 3 nights. Not a flash hotel but perfectly clean and very central. Well to my surprise I enjoyed Coventry just as much as our trips to the Cotswolds. I always knew I was odd! I’ll post about the trips to the Cotswold villages later.

Now I’ve never been to Coventry, nor ever been sent there, unlike some of the jokers on the bus. I did know that Coventry was very badly bombed during World War 2 and that their cathedral was at the heart of the destruction. I also remembered that they built a new and very modern cathedral designed by Sir Basil Spence, which was consecrated by the Queen in 1962. 

What surprised me when I visited the cathedral was that the original cathedral ruins lie alongside the new one. For some reason I had imagined it had been totally destroyed and the new one built over the ruins.  I wondered why they hadn’t built on the original site but as I walked around the site I read the story and understood why. It was very moving and it made such good sense to rebuild as they did. Having the permanent reminder of the destruction and violence of war alongside the rebuilding of that new cathedral are symbolic of the themes of evil and destruction contrasting with resurrection and reconciliation. 

In England the majority of our ruined churches and cathedrals are the result of the violence following the dissolution of the Catholic monasteries in 1539 during the reign of Henry VIII. However the ruins of the Cathedral of St Michael were a consequence of 20th Century violence. The city of Coventry was devastated by bombs dropped by the Luftwaffe on the night of 14th November 1940. As the city burned, so did their cathedralWhat had taken centuries to perfect, took one night to destroy. In addition over 500 people were killed that night.
"The decision to rebuild the cathedral was taken the morning after its destruction.  Rebuilding would not be an act of defiance, but rather a sign of faith, trust and hope for the future of the world.  It was the vision of the Provost at the time, Dick Howard, which led the people of Coventry away from feelings of bitterness and hatred".
 (Extract from Coventry Cathedral website )

                      Coventry Cathedral
                         Source:Wiki Commons - Steve Cadman

This photo shows the two cathedrals of St Michael, old & new, side by side. 
The remains of the original Gothic cathedral are on the left and the new cathedral designed by Sir Basil Spence is on the right. We didn’t have much time to visit the cathedral as the daily bus trips we were on didn’t return until after 5pm. The first time we got there after a couple of minutes it suddenly started to rain which meant I got very few photos. The photos seem to show a really sad building in this light. 

However I went back early the next morning, the light was wonderful and it seemed a totally different place. These photographs are mine. Not brilliant but I think they capture the mood. 

The Old Sanctuary Remains in the Morning Light

This cross was formed from the remaining burnt roof timbers on the altar which were taken from the ruins. Behind the altar you can see inscribed on the walls Father Forgive. The The Litany of Reconciliation is now recited there every Friday at noon.

Below is a photo of Sir Winston Churchill in 1942 walking through the ruins with the remains of the altar in the background.

Source: Wiki Commons

Source: Wiki Commons

This photo taken following the blitz of Coventry, shows wounded US soldiers who were convalescing in local hospitals. They were attending a Mothers' Day service in the ruins of the cathedral.

The old buildings behind the ruins of the altar seen in the photo above, have now been replaced by Coventry University seen below. What a contrast! Not entirely sure I like it.

Coventry University

Opposite the University is the main entrance to the cathedrals with the wonderful Epstein bronze of St Michael & the Devil on the new cathedral on the right and the old one to the left.

Main Entrance


St Michael & the Devil - 
Sir Jacob Epstein's Bronze  

Sadly Epstein didn't live to see his bronze mounted on the cathedral. He died in 1959 a year before the cathedral was completed.

These are the steps from the new cathedral up to the old one.

Looking from the old to the new. The canopy of the new cathedral looking out over the old remains.

This is the area linking the two cathedrals.

This beautiful statue "Reconciliation" lies in the ruins. It was made by Josefina de Vasconcellos aged 90 and was presented to Coventry Cathedral by Richard Branson on the 50th anniversary of the end of WW2 in 1995. A replica of it was donated by the people of Coventry to the peace garden of Hiroshima and there are copies in Berlin and Northern Ireland.
Also in the ruins is Ecce Homo, Epstein's statue of Christ on trial before Pontius Pilate which was presented to the cathedral by Lady Epstein. 
Ecce Homo

Looking from the old cathedral ruins towards the new cathedral with the canopy spanning the two.

Under the canopy is the amazing huge floor to ceiling glass window of the new cathedral. I took a number of photos of this window which, each section is engraved with angels & saints. In every single photo I took, no matter what time of day, what the light was like or whether you took the photograph from inside or outside, the reflection of the walls of the old cathedral ruins is seen. When I researched this I found that it was no accident. The huge glass wall was designed to reflect each of the cathedrals from the other showing that each was incomplete without the other.

Exterior Angels & Saints Window of New Cathedral

Interior of Angels & Saints Window of New Cathedral

I'm not really a fan of modern cathedrals but I have to say this one is impressive and very moving. 

Also I don't like taking photographs inside cathedrals, it feels irreverent (just one of my foibles) so I've used these from Wiki Commons. They are really good.

High Altar and Graham Sutherland's Tapestry

Source: Wiki Commons Author Steve Cadman

Graham Sutherland’s Tapestry - ‘Christ in Glory’ 
                                     Source: Wiki Commons Author Steve Cadman 

This tapestry took 12 weavers in France 2 years to make. To give you an idea of the scale, it's the size of a tennis court! About 78 by 36 feet.


Source: Wiki Commons Author Steve Cadman

The font was made from a boulder from a hillside near

Baptistry Window
                                         Source: Wiki Commons Author Steve Cadman

The magnificent Baptistry window is huge and is composed of 195 panels. It was designed by John Piper and created by Patrick Reyntiens.  

                           Chapel of Christ the Servant
                                      Source: Wiki Commons Author Steve Cadman

                            Gethsemane Chapel
                                      Source: Wiki Commons Author Jim Linwood

The crown of thorns was designed by Sir Basil Spence and was made by the Royal Engineers.

Unfortunately I had very little time to look around the new cathedral as it was closing. I need to go back again & spend more time in this wonderful building. I have taken the Virtual Tour on the Coventry Cathedral website and realise how much more there is to see.

This struck me as a very apt quotation for these cathedrals, a biblical inscription from Haggai 2:9 on the wall of the old cathedral. 

Next time I'll do a lot more reading from the websites below so that I don't miss anything.


  1. Thanks for the post I enjoyed it very much.

  2. This is overwhelming and amazing. Thank you so much for sharing. How did you manage to pull yourself away with so much to see. It is indeed wonderful how they blended and preserved the old with the new.

    Bus travel is not a very safe form of transportation anymore unless you are going on a chartered bus tour. At least that is what I hear. I used to love to travel by bus. We are left out anyway because of the need to transport Ron's oxygen tanks with us. We can't fly for that same reason.

  3. Have not been to Coventry but maybe will get there some day. We too like visiting and travelling in our country. We have done so much of it since Alan retired and the only thing missing is the weather. I don't think one can find the diversity that this country has any where else. Thanks for the cathedral photos.

  4. I have been to Coventry Cathedral but was unable to go into the new Cathedral owing to an event that was happening. You photos and information was very interesting.

  5. I have been in Coventry Cathedral and it is marvelous place. Both new and old one. Hope to visit is again.

  6. I have been in Coventry Cathedral, both new and old and that is marvelous place.
    I wish to visit it again.


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