April 2 - 8, 2017: Issue 307


The shell of the destroyed cathedral with the new Coventry Cathedral on the left.  Photograph by George Repin in 1982.


By George Repin

During the night of Thursday, 14th November, 1940, the city of Coventry suffered the longest air-raid of any one night, on any British city, during World War II.  The city was targeted by the Luftwaffe probably because of the high concentration of factories in the area producing armaments, munitions, aircraft and aero-engines which were vital to the British war effort.  However it has been suggested that Hitler ordered the attack as revenge for the bombing of Munich by the RAF six days earlier, on advice he was given that the city’s medieval heart was one of the finest in Britain.

The Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, in the shell of Coventry Cathedral in September 1941.  From Wikipedia.

Huge firestorms devastated most of the city centre and the majority of Coventry’s historic buildings could not be saved.

In the one night three quarters of the city’s industrial plants were destroyed, an estimated 568 people were killed (this figure was never precisely confirmed) with another 863 badly injured, 393 sustained lesser injuries and thousands were rendered homeless.

The firestorm illuminated the city to the extent that German aircraft could fly back to their base in northern France, refuel, rearm and fly back to drop bombs on dark areas so far not affected by the bombing.

The cathedral was destroyed, not by high explosives, but by the fire bombs, so that the outer walls and the tower and spire remained intact, but the wooden roof, the heavy oak ceiling, the pews, the floor and the screen were completely lost. 

The tapestry (74 ft. high and 38ft. wide) replacing the traditional east window.  It depicts Christ in Glory with "Man" between his feet.  The high altar is made of hammered concrete. Photograph by George Repin n 1982.

Two precious relics grew out of the destruction - The Charred Cross and The Cross of Nails.  The cathedral stonemason saw two wooden beams, charred but still solid, lying in the shape of a cross, tied them together with wire and set them up at the east end of the ruins. A replica now stands in the sanctuary of the ruins with The Cross of Nails.  The original is now kept safely in another place. The Cross of Nails was made of three 14th Century hand-forged nails which fell to the floor when the roof burned.  This cross has become the symbol of Coventry Cathedral’s Ministry of International Reconciliation. Over 330 crosses made of nails from the ruins are in many Centres throughout the world.

The Charred Cross and the Cross of Nails in the sanctuary of the ruins.  Pitkin Pictorials 1971.

The interior of the Chapel of Christ the Servant, with its Cross and Crown of Thorns.  Pitkin Pictorials 1971.

The decision to rebuild the cathedral was made on the day following the destruction of the old church but it was sixteen years before the foundation stone was laid.

In 1950 a competition was held to find an architect for the new Coventry Cathedral. The design submitted by Basil Spence and Arup was chosen from over two hundred entries. Spence, who was later knighted, insisted that instead of rebuilding 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.

The foundation stone was laid by Queen Elizabeth II on 23 March 1956. The 24 metre tall unconventional steel spire was lowered onto the flat roof by helicopter. The modernist design for the cathedral was the subject of much discussion and debate but, on opening to the public, became hugely popular.
When the resurgence of the cathedral became known gifts arrived from all over the world and large sums of money came from benefactors in Coventry to provide some of the great artistic features of the building.

Three illustrations accompanying this article, appearing in Coventry Cathedral published by Pitkin Pictorials Ltd (SBN 85372 101 7)                    
© Pitkin Pictorials 1971 (Photographs by Gerald Newbery, FIIP, FRPS,) give some idea of the beautiful features of Coventry Cathedral.  

Bronze Statue by Sir Jacob Epstein depicting  St. Michael, patron saint of the cathedral, defeating the Devil. Pitkin Pictorials 1971.

Previous Reflections by George Repin 

The Nineteen Thirties  Remembering Rowe Street  The Sydney Push  Saturday Night at the Movies  Shooting Through Like A Bondi Tram  A Stop On The Road To Canberra  City Department Stores - Gone and Mostly Forgotten  An Australian Icon - thanks to Billy Hughes  Crossing The Pacific in the 1930s  Hill End  The Paragon at Katoomba  Seafood In Sydney  How Far From Sydney?  Cockatoo Island Over The Years  The Seagull at the Melbourne Festival in 1991  Busby's Bore  The Trocadero In Sydney  Cahill's restaurants Medical Pioneers in Australian Wine Making  Pedal Power and the Royal Flying Doctor Service  Pambula and the Charles Darwin Connection  Gloucester and the Barrington Tops  A Millenium Apart  Have You Stopped to Look?  Gulgong  Il Porcellino  Olympia  Durham Hall  Sargent's Tea Rooms Pie Shops and Street Photographers The Ballet Russes and Their Friends in Australia  Hotels at Bondi  Alma Ata Conference - 1978 Keukenhof - 1954 The Lands Department Building and Yellowblock Sandstone  The Goroka Show - 1958  A Gem On The Quay  Staffa  The Matson Line and Keepsake Menus Kokeshi Dolls  The Coal Mine At Balmain  The Hyde Park Barracks  The Changing Faces Of Sydney From Pounds and Pence to Dollars and Cents Nell Tritton and Alexander Kerensky  Making A Difference In Ethiopia William Balmain  J C Bendrodt and Princes Restaurant Azzalin Orlando Romano and Romano's Restaurant  Waldheim  Alcohol in Restaurants Before 1955  King Island Kelp  The Mercury Theatre   Around Angkor - 1963   Angkor Wat 1963  Costumes From the Ballets Russe Clifton at Kirribilli  Chairman Mao's Personal Physician  The Toby Tavern The MoKa at Kings Cross  The Oceaographic  Museum  in Monaco  The Island of Elba  Russian Fairy Tale Plates  Meteora  Souda Bay War Cemetery Barrow, Alaska  Cloisonné  Tripitaka Koreana Minshuku The Third Man Photographs and Memories  Not A Chagall!  Did You Listen? Did You Ask?  Napier (Ahuriri, Maori) New Zealand  Borobudur  Ggantija Temples Plumes and Pearlshells  Murano  University of Padua  Ancient Puebloe Peoples - The Anasazi   Pula  The Gondolas of Venice Cinque Terre  Visiting the Iban David The Living Desert Bryce Canyon National Park   Aphrodisias   The Divine Comedy Caodaism  Sapa and local Hill People  A Few Children  Cappadocia  Symi Jean-Marie Tjibaou Cultural Centre   Aboriginal Rock Art on Bigge Island    ANZAC Cove (Ari Burnu) 25 April, 1997  Hotere Garden Oputae  Children of the Trobriand Islands  Page Park Market - Rabaul  Rabual   Kotor, Montenegro   Galleries of Photographs I   Lascaux  Galleries of Photographs II   The Cathedral of St. James – Šibenik, Croatia  Ivan Meštrović  - Sculptor   Delphi   Gallery of Photographs III  The Handicrafts of Chiang Mai Raft Point  San Simeon - "Hearst Castle"  Floriade - The Netherlands - 1982  Russian New Year  Mycenae  "Flightseeing" Out Of Anchorage Alaska  The White Pass and Yukon Route  Totem Poles  Tivkin Cemetery  Krka National Park - Croatia   Tavistock Square and the BMA  Orthodox Easter  Wieliczka Salt Mine  A Walk on Santorini  Indonesian Snapshots Ephesus - The Library of Celsus  Ephesus - Some Places Of Interest  Waimea Canyon and the Kalalau Valley United Nations Headquarters 1958  A Miscellany of Flower Images Gardens Bath St. David's In Wales   Zion National Park Nicholas Himona - Artist  Kraków  Lilianfels  Collonges-La-Rouge  Gingerbread Houses   Cape Sounion   Delos  Wroclaw  Colonial Williamsburg  Gruyères   Strasbourg  

Copyright George Repin 2017. All Rights Reserved.