Coventry Cathedral

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Coventry cathedral is the new cathedral of St. Michael, Coventry, England, consecrated on May 25, 1962. Its design by architect Sir Basil Spence was chosen in competition. It is the third cathedral at the same site; the first, built in 1043, was destroyed in 1538; the second, built as a parish church in 1326, became a cathedral in 1918 and was destroyed in the 11-hour Coventry air raid of November 1940. Ruins of the 14th-century church are still preserved as an integral part of the cathedral and contain the famous shrine of reconciliation, centered on the Charred Cross made of two burned beams from the roof of the old cathedral. The ancient church provides a superb parvis for the new; its sightless walls and roofless nave poignantly introduce the boldly stated contemporary building. The difficult juncture between the two has been particularly well handled. The interior of the new church, though too attenuated for current liturgical ideals, provides an impressive sweep that reaches a climax some 290 feet away in Graham Sutherland's wall-filling tapestry of "Christ in Glory," reportedly the largest ever woven in one piece. The nave, elegantly capped by a wood panel ceiling, provides a simple yet stately frame for the tapestry. However, the many elements at the chancel proper tend to be distracting: the spikey "Crown of Thorns" over the choir stalls and bishop's throne, the too-prominent organ pipes, and the disturbing geometric elements in the tapestry itself. The excellent nave illumination is highlighted by a lovely stained glass window by John Piper, bowed about the baptismal font. Other art, much of it superior, can be seen in the Chapel of Unity (the glass for it was appropriately given by Dr. Konrad Adenauer), the Chapel of Christ in Gethsemane, and in the exterior statue of "St. Michael Conquering the Devil" by Sir Jacob Epstein.

Bibliography: h. c. n. williams, The Latter Glory: The Story of Coventry Cathedral (Manchester, England 1982). l. campbell, To Build a Cathedral: Coventry Cathedral 19451962 (Warwick 1987). l. campbell, Coventry Cathedral: Art and Architecture in Post-war Britain (New York 1996).

[g. e. kidder smith/eds.]