The PA to the Bishop of Coventry told me that Dean John of Coventry would be best suited to help me as he has jurisdiction over Coventry Cathedral plus an interest in artistic and cultural endeavours involving the Cathedral.
I emailed Dean John and he agreed to meet me after Sunday service.
On a cold moonlit night in November 1940, Coventry’s Cathedral of St Michael and much of the old mediaeval city was destroyed in a German bombing blitz codenamed Mondscheinsonate.
After the war, a new Cathedral was built. It stands at a right angle to the old ruins. It was designed in a progressive, modernist style by Sir Basil Spence and consecrated in May 1962 to the premiere of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem. Dean John informed me that another performance is planned for next year to mark the centenary of the end of the First World War.
After Sunday communion and coffee Dean John showed me some of the cathedral and led me towards the altar. When entering the cathedral and facing towards the altar, there’s a sense of intimacy and enclosure as no windows are visible. The ten, 70 foot high stained glass windows on the eastern and western naves are only fully visible from the altar when facing south towards the old cathedral.
Dean John told me that the cathedral’s designer Sir Basil Spence, had said that he wanted the cathedral to be a ‘casket of jewels’ showcasing exquisite craftsmanship, objects of art and meaningful relics and monuments.
Jewels include: bronze sculptures of Archangel Michael vanquishing the Devil by Jacob Epstein, Tablets of the Word hand carved by Ralph Beyer, Christ in Glory – the world’s largest tapestry, designed by Graham Sutherland, a baptism stone sourced from Bethlehem, the charred cross formed with the fire-ravaged crossbeams from the roof of the old cathedral, a glass screen with 66 stylised saints and angels, engraved by John Hutton, a lectern eagle sculpted by Elisabeth Frink and the High Altar Cross designed by Geoffrey Clarke.
Dean John told me that at the heart of the High Altar Cross is a ‘cross of nails’, made with three of the original medieval nails from the old cathedral’s roof.
Shortly after the old cathedral’s destruction, Provost Dick Howard pleaded on BBC Radio to work towards forgiveness, friendship and reconciliation after the war.
The Cross of Three Nails inspired ‘The Community of the Cross of Nails’ which partnerships with over 200 organisations to “work and pray for peace, justice and reconciliation within their own communities and countries.”
The cathedral’s Chapel of Unity also speaks of unity and reconciliation. Ten window strips designed by Margaret Traherne tunnel light into the circular chapel through glass wedges set in concrete.
Dean John informed me that the chapel’s floor slopes gently down towards the dove in the middle. If bouncy balls or marbles are let go from different places, they’d all roll and congregate together in unity at the dove / Holy Spirit depicted in the centre.
For the project, Dean John gave the montage a bookmark with The Coventry Litany of Reconciliation. He then sent me to visit Sabir Zazai at The Coventry Refugee and Migrant Centre.
Dean John commended the work undertaken by CRMC and told me that the Bishop of Coventry is patron of the centre.