Coventry Cathedral, West Midlands

Discovering the history of Coventry Cathedral is like becoming immersed in a 'best selling thriller' - you are compelled to complete the story because it has so many twists and turns along the way you never quite know what is coming next! Throughout, love, belief, sadness, tragedy, forgiveness and patience are set against a backdrop of absolute determination to succeed in the final chapter. It is an incredibly moving and fascinating adventure that culminates in the glorious architectural statement that is today's third reincarnation of a cathedral.

During the first half of the 11th century, the Earl Leofric of Mercia, and his wife the Lady Godiva, founded a Benedictine monastery. In less than 100 years, the church was raised to cathedral status and dedicated to St Mary. The nearby parish church of St Michael was greatly enlarged and rebuilt from about the 1370s, and by 1460 it stood as a magnificent example of Coventry's wealth in the Middle Ages. However, it had to wait almost half a century to become a cathedral as, in 1539, the original priory church of St Mary was dissolved - courtesy of Henry VIII - and the Bishop's seat was moved to Lichfield.

In 1918, St Michael's parish church became a cathedral on the creation of the modern diocese of Coventry. Tragically, just 32 years later following a night of sustained air raids over the city, the people of Coventry awoke to find no more than a shell surviving of their glorious cathedral. From that day, the decision was taken to rebuild Coventry Cathedral, however long it would take. Meanwhile, some services continued in the 'open air' nave, and regular Sunday worship took place in a crypt chapel that had suffered little damage.

Following a competition to select a design for the new cathedral, work commenced in 1955 to recreate the winning entry from architect, Basil Spence. His vision was for a new and entirely modern structure to stand alongside the poignant ruins of the medieval cathedral, with a mighty canopy uniting both buildings. The result, as we see today, was a successful but dramatic contrast - the exquisite detail and slender lines of the old cathedral in direct opposition to the flat, angular building with massive brick walls. Internally, the contrasts are no less impressive - it is stark and simplistic yet colourful and artistic. Stylish sculptures, and modern tapestry dominate the nave while, at the other end of the church, a 'rough boulder' font is illuminated by an amazing wall of brilliantly coloured glass panels.

Whatever popular opinion is on this dynamic approach to the rebuilding of Coventry Cathedral, all would agree that is a most remarkable and eye-catching structure of the city. To celebrate the new cathedral's Silver Jubilee in 1987, the twelve bells of the old cathedral were rehung in the splendid tower that miraculously survived the 1940 bombardment.


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