Days 9 – Coventry

Today marks the final full day of our pilgrimage.  Not only is it the final day but it is in Coventry that we tie together all the strands of our pilgrimage and weave them into one tapestry that tells the story of our journey.  We set out ten days ago to learn more about our traditions and about our call to serve Christ in all people, and I think that by the end of the day people will also learn more about themselves and their faith.

So we began our final day by having a delicious breakfast at the college and were on our way to Coventry Cathedral.  This is a site of particular interest, and one that everyone should go to if they are in England, because of the events of November 14, 1940 when the Luftwaffe carpet bombed Coventry.  At the time of the war Coventry was an important city whose automobile factories had been converted to manufacture airplane parts.  The city experienced over six hours of continuous bombing as German planes refueled and restocked in France.  But before I tell you more about that night and what happened next we must first start at the beginning of the cathedral’s presence in Coventry.

The city of Coventry has had three cathedrals. The first was St Mary’s, a monastic building, only a few ruins of which remain. The second was St Michael’s, a 14th-century Gothic church later designated cathedral and then the third, and current cathedral is the new St Michael’s Cathedral.

The first cathedral in Coventry was St Mary’s Priory and Cathedral, 1095 to 1102, when a bishop moved the bishop’s see from Lichfield to Coventry, that is until 1539 when it fell victim to Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries. Prior to 1095, it had been a small Benedictine monastery.  It was a cathedral of 142 yards in length and included many large outbuildings and the remains can be seen today.


The remains of the western wall of the first cathedral.


The pillars of the first cathedral.


Holy Trinity Church which is right next to the cathedral. Holy Trinity survived the bombing that night because of the design of the roof and the bombs rolled down the roof sparing the building, whereas the cathedral had a flat roof and the bombs destroyed the building. The rector of Holy Trinity stood in his bell tower and watched as the cathedral burned.


A tomb to the unknown civilians that tied in the bombing.


I saw a bunch of decorative elephants throughout the city so I am assuming that it is a symbol of the city.

St Michael’s Church was largely constructed between the late 14th century and early 15th century. It was one of the largest parish churches in England when, in 1918, it was elevated to cathedral status on the creation of Coventry Diocese.

This St Michael’s Cathedral now stands ruined, bombed almost to destruction during the Coventry Blitz of 14 November 1940.  The attack, code-named Operation Mondscheinsonate (Moonlight Sonata), was intended to destroy Coventry’s factories and industrial infrastructure, although it was clear that damage to the rest of the city, including monuments and residential areas, would be considerable.

Only the tower, spire, the outer wall and the bronze effigy and tomb of its first bishop, Huyshe Yeatman-Biggs, survived. The ruins of this older cathedral remain hallowed ground.  Following the bombing of the Provost Richard Howar had the words “Father Forgive” inscribed on the wall behind the altar of the ruined building.


A look at the outside of the apse of the bombed cathedral, the second cathedral.


A look at the apse from within the bombed cathedral.


Clark McSparren sitting by the sculpture of Reconciliation which stands by one of the remaining walls.  I imagine that he was deeply affected by standing in this space, as many of us were, especially because he remembers hearing of the bombings as a 7-year-old.



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The remains of one fo the entrances into the cathedral.


Signs that line the remains giving info about the second cathedral before it was bombed.


Another sign about the now rebuilt tower.


A panoramic view facing towards the apse.


Another panoramic view facing towards the tower.


One of the several monuments in the bombed cathedral.


One of the windows that were blown out in the bombing and you can see some of the glass still stuck in there.


A closer look at one of the windows with glass still in the window.


A look up at the tower.


A sculpture titled The Choir of Survivors, given to Coventry by their twin city Dresden, which we in turn carpet bombed into a similar state.


The description of the statue.


The sculpture titled Reconciliation.


The tomb of the first Bishop of Coventry, Huyshe Yeatman-Biggs.


The bishop holding the cathedral in his hands.


On his bishop’s mitre is the swastika which is a Hindu symbol for luck or auspiciousness before it was co-opted by the Nazis and turned into their symbol of hate and violence.


A recast statue of Christ.


The remains of the high altar with a copy of the charred cross.  The cathedral stonemason, Jock Forbes, saw two wooden beams lying in the shape of a cross in the rubble and lashed them together to form a cross.  Notice the phrase engraved behind the altar, “Father Forgive,” and there is no them or us added to the end of the phrase but it serves as a blanket statement of forgiveness for us all.


A copy of the Litany of Reconciliation, a litany that is still so desperately needed even today.

The current St Michael’s Cathedral, built next to the remains of the old and was designed by Basil Spence.  The selection of Spence for the work was a result of a competition held in 1950 to find an architect for the new Coventry Cathedral; his design was chosen from over two hundred submitted.

Spence insisted that instead of re-building the old cathedral it should be kept in ruins as a garden of remembrance and that the new cathedral should be built alongside, the two buildings together effectively forming one church.  Coventry’s modernist design caused much discussion, but on opening to the public it rapidly became a hugely popular symbol of reconciliation in post-war Britain.  The interior is notable for its huge tapestry (once thought to be the world’s largest) of Christ, designed by Graham Sutherland who traveled to France to find a loom large enough to handle the dimensions of the tapestry.  Opposite the tapestry is the Great West Window known as the Screen of Saints and Angels, engraved directly onto the screen in expressionist style by John Hutton who used his wife to model the various body positions found in the window.


The walkway leading up to Coventry Cathedral.


A sculpture titled St. Michael’s Victory over the Devil


A look down the side of the new, third cathedral.


A look at the outside of the apse of the bombed cathedral, the second cathedral.


One of the commemorating stones set in the cathedral.


The breezeway between the two cathedrals.


An ornate door knob.


The west window is huge and is etched glass. They decided to create a clear window so that the remains of the second cathedral will always be visible.


One of the etchings of the west window with the remains of the cathedral in the background.


Saint George (England)


Saint Andrew (Scotland)


Saint Patrick (Ireland)


Saint David (Wales)


The bpatistry window.


A closer look at the baptistry window.



A look down the nave towards the high altar and the famous tapestry.


One of the many gospel verses that line the nave.


One of the organ pipe stacks.


The pulpit.


The lectern.


The high altar and tapestry.


A closer look at the tapestry.


The choir stalls.


The bishop’s seat.


The other side of the choir.


The dean’s seat.


The high altar, cross of nails, and tapestry.


The Cross of Nails was made of three nails from the roof truss of the old cathedral by Provost Richard Howard of Coventry Cathedral. It was later transferred to the new cathedral, where it sits in the center of the altar cross. It has become a symbol of peace and reconciliation across the world.


Three of the high altar candles are shaped like bobbins.


A look down the nave from the high altar.



The plumb-line and city sculpture.


The royal coat of arms above the Queen’s seat.


Kathi and Jim Sabino sitting in the Queen’s and Mayor’s seat, respectively.


A sign for on of the many side chapels in the cathedral.


Our tour guide Mary talking about the Chapel of Gethsemane.



The sign for the Lady Chapel where we had mass.


The altar in the Lady Chapel and at the bottom of the tapestry a section was made so that when worshiping in the chapel a portion of the tapestry blends in with the chapel.


A statue to Mary.


The sign for the Charred Cross.


The Charred Cross that was dug up from the rubble the next morning.


One of the many modern art windows in the cathedral.


Another window.


Notice the coins in the floor? They are used to helped mark and space the liturgical procession.


A closer look at the coins. The queen gave permission for people to “walk on her face,” so to speak.


One of the canons leading the daily Litany of Reconciliation at noon.


Fr. David serving alongside the canon and verger during our mass in the Lady Chapel after the Litany of Reconciliation.


One of the other side chapels.



A sign the peace bell.


The peace bell.

I think most of us were deeply impacted by visiting this sacred place and to hear the stories of how this place has become a center to promote peace and reconciliation.  As we walked away and boarded the coach there was a palpable sense that we had visited a very special and unique place.

We made out way back to the college and went to the chapel for our final time of prayer together.  We said evening prayer and had some time to share our thoughts and reflections about the pilgrimage.  It was awesome to hear how people have been transformed by this experience.  I pray that as we all go out separate ways we will continue to look back on our time here, and remember all that we saw and heard, so that we can continue our bearing our witness and tell our stories as we walk through this our earthly pilgrimage.

One thought on “Days 9 – Coventry

  1. Fr. Rob – Many thanks for your blogs as you went about Britain on your Pilgramage. We envy you and all who went with you that experience. The comments, descriptions and pictures were excellent. How did you find the time to do it?
    We do not get to church much anymore, unfortunately. Both of us have visited some but not all of the places you saw, many times with our children. My Great Grandfather and my Grandfather grew up in Canterbury. My grandfather sang in the choir less than a mile behind the Cahedral.
    You, the planner of the tour, the driver and all the guides did a wonderful job.

    Thanks again, George and Inge Murphy


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