A Cathedral with a message

In 1997 I took a 'Cathedral Coach Tour,' which visited Hereford and Worcester,and on the return journey called at Coventry.
The Cathedral there left a lasting impression.

If ever there was chaos and destruction, it was here; and if ever hope and reconciliation were born in the midst of darkness, it was here.

On the night of Thursday,14th of November 1940, the Luftwaffe headed for Coventry in what was codenamed 'Operation Moonlight Somata.'
The raid devastated the city; and as it burned, its cathedral burned with it.

The project was such a success that the Germans coined a new word to describe the total destruction of cities,'zu Coventrieren,' - to coventrate.

For a city, its cathedral is its soul; the next morning, the survivors wandered about in the smoking ruins like homeless ghosts. Perhaps it could have been expected that feelings of bitterness and despair would have overwhelmed the people of Coventry, but this was not so, perhaps due to the leadership of those who loved the cathedral and determined to restore it.

Within days of that dreadful night, the cathedral's stonemason, Jock Forbes,observing two fallen roof-timbers that had made a cross on the floor amid the rubble, tied them together and set them up in the ruined sanctuary.

The Provost, Dick Howard, had the words 'Father, forgive' inscribed behind the charred cross.

A local priest created another cross by binding together three of the huge medieval nails that littered the debris.
This Cross of Nails, now the symbol of Coventry's International ministry of reconciliation,was placed on a simple stone altar,built in the ruined sanctuary as an 'altar of reconciliation.'

Two days later, King George VI visited the city.
The Provost said he expressed 'intense sympathy and grief' as he stood amid the ruins of the cathedral.

Today the ruined walls,standing as they do next to the new building which rose from the ashes, speak eloquently of resurrection and new life.

The 50th anniversary of the Blitz,14th of November 1990, was marked by a service of reconciliation and remembrance.
The Queen Mother presented the President of Germany with a Cross of Nails,and the President presented a Peace Bell.

Epstein, Graham Sutherland,John Hutton, John Piper and many other artists created works for the new building; Basil Spence was the architect.
From the cast bronze statue of St.Michael and the Devil which dominates the Porch to the cherub handles on the glass doors of the west screen (both by Epstein), everywhere one is surprised by beauty.

Music was created for the opening ceremony and for later services; Benjamin Britten's 'War Requiem' was first performed here in 1962.
At the consecration service the Bishop of Coventry preached on Haggai 2.9:'The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former.'

There are wonderful,thoughtful elements everywhere in the design.
The font is a large boulder,brought from a Bethlehem hillside, hollowed out to contain water.

Behind it the Baptistry window is a jewelled backdrop.
This is regarded by many as one of the greatest stained-glass windows in the country, with its dark reds,blues and greens at the periphery and the central sunburst of gold and white.

None of the photographs do justice to the engravings on the west screen: from inside the building the ruins can be seen, through ranks of saints and angels, full of energy and as if created in silver lace.

I think the window was my favourite creative work, although the Gethsemane Chapel made me take a deep breath,it was so beautiful.

Christ crucified, Helen Jennings' sculpture, was created out of a wrecked car.

Perhaps the most meaningful thing for me, in the end, was the original Cross of Nails, symbol of reconciliation, set within the High Altar cross. I have put this at the beginning and end of the article for that reason.

Certainly Coventry cathedral is a very special place.
Hundreds of people visit every day.
There are benches in the ruined nave, and they sit in ones and twos, looking and thinking.

It is a place to think of the harm man can do to man, and of the way we deal with those who harm us.
I have never forgotten the afternoon I spent there,and the message I brought away with me.

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