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Coventry Cathedral

As with every weekend, Coventry Cathedral will be open during Heritage Open Days, and members of the public will be able to get a look at some extra areas.

The Bishop Haigh Memorial Chapel will be open to visitors, and the tower in the ruins of the old cathedral will be free.

The cathedrals lying side by side form a centrepiece for the events in the city centre. Here’s 20 facts about them.

  • Coventry has three cathedrals - the ruins of St Mary's, destroyed by Henry VIII, St Michael's, blitzed in November 1940, and Sir Basil Spence's new cathedral, consecrated in 1962.
  • The spire of St Michael's, at 295 feet, is the third tallest in England, after Salisbury and Norwich.
  • Squirrels carved into the stonework of what is now the sanctuary are said to represent the ancient woodlands which still surrounded Coventry in the Middle Ages.
  • Before it became a cathedral, in 1918, St Michael's was the country's largest parish church. It was the only English cathedral lost to aerial bombardment during the Second World War.
  • The day after the Blitz demolition crews had to be prevented from pulling down the surviving tower. They didn't realise it had been leaning for at least a hundred years.
  • The same day, November 15, 1940, the decision was taken to rebuild the cathedral as a testament to peace and reconciliation.
  • On that day too, the cathedral's chief stonemason fashioned two burnt roof timbers he found in the rubble into the rough shape of a cross. The Charred Cross and the Cross of Nails, three mediaeval roof nails bound together, remain potent symbols of the cathedral's world-wide ministry of reconciliation.
  • More than 200 architects submitted designs to an international competition launched in 1947 for the new cathedral. The winner, Basil Spence, was designing exhibitions for the Festival of Britain but had wanted to build a cathedral since childhood and the idea for the building's zig-zag windows came to him in a dream after he'd passed out in a dentist's chair while being treated for a tooth abscess.
  • As ground clearance works for the new building began, the site agent reported sightings of a ghostly monk.
  • Sir Jacob Epstein's great bronze statue of St Michael overcoming the Devil was the sculptor's last major work, before his death in 1959.
  • In October 1961, 16 young Germans arrived in Coventry to help build the cathedral's International Centre. Money to furnish it was given by a Berlin merchant who had lost his entire family in an Allied bombing raid.
  • The cathedral was consecrated, in the presence of Her Majesty the Queen, on 25 May, 1962. Benjamin Britten's War Requiem was given its premiere during the celebrations.
  • The cathedral's font, a three-ton boulder from a hillside near Bethlehem, was brought from the Holy Land without charge to Coventry in what was at the time an extraordinary example of co-operation between Jew, Moslem and Christian.
  • Graham Sutherland's extraordinary tapestry, seven years in the making, was the biggest in the world when it was made. There are more than 900 colours in it and it is guaranteed for 500 years.
  • Lines of 1962 pennies, worn but still visible in the floor, mark the processional routes for choir and clergy.
  • The ashes of John Hutton, creator of the cathedral's great West Screen, lie buried beneath his great work. It is said that the chemicals he used in etching the screen may have hastened his death.
  • The old cathedral bells, silent for more than a century, were re-hung in 1987 to mark the new cathedral's 25th anniversary. They first rang out to celebrate Coventry City's FA Cup final win in that year.
  • In November 1990, the President of Germany joined the Queen Mother in a service of remembrance to mark the 50th anniversary of the destruction of the old cathedral.
  • Five years later a bronze sculpture titled 'Reconciliation' was placed in the ruins to commemorate the bombing of Hiroshima in 1945. It was donated by Richard Branson and an identical casting is in Hiroshima.
  • Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland, is patron of the Centre for the Study of Forgiveness and Reconciliation, set up by Coventry University in partnership with the cathedral.


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CWN / Heritage / Heritage Open Days / 4 Sep 00

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This page modified on 10 November 2008 09:49:15AM