Coventry Cathedral

by Gethin Thomas July. 04, 2020 315 views

14 November 1940

The Coventry Blitz was a series of bombing raids that took place on the English city of Coventry. The city was bombed many times during the Second World War by the German Air Force (Luftwaffe). The most devastating of these attacks occurred on the evening of 14 November 1940 and continued into the morning of 15 November.

At around 20:00, Coventry Cathedral (dedicated to Saint Michael), was set on fire by incendiaries for the first time. The volunteer firefighters managed to put out the first fire but other direct hits followed and soon new fires broke out in the cathedral; accelerated by a firestorm, the flames quickly spread out of control. During the same period, more than 200 other fires were started across the city, most of which were concentrated in the city-centre area, setting the area ablaze and overwhelming the firefighters. The telephone network was crippled, hampering the fire service's command and control and making it difficult to send firefighters to the most dangerous blazes first; as the Germans had intended, the water mains were damaged by high explosives, meaning there was not enough water available to tackle many of the fires. The raid reached its climax around midnight with the final all clear sounding at 06:15 on the morning of 15 November.

In one night, more than 4,300 homes in Coventry were destroyed and around two-thirds of the city's buildings were damaged. The raid was heavily concentrated on the city centre, most of which was destroyed. However, the effects on war production were only temporary, as much essential war production had already been moved to 'shadow factories' on the city outskirts.

The Cathedral Church of St Michael, commonly known as Coventry Cathedral, is the seat of the Bishop of Coventry and the Diocese of Coventry within the Church of England. The cathedral is located in Coventry, West Midlands, England.

The city has had three cathedrals. The first was St Mary's, a monastic building, of which only a few ruins remain. The second was St Michael's, a 14th-century Gothic church later designated cathedral, which remains a ruined shell after its bombing during the Second World War. The third is the new St Michael's Cathedral, built after the destruction of the former.

The current St Michael's Cathedral, built next to the remains of the old, was designed by Basil Spence and is a Grade I listed building.

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 (later knighted for this work) 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. The use of Great Gate sandstone for the new Coventry Cathedral provides an element of unity between the buildings.

The foundation stone of the new cathedral was laid by Elizabeth II on 23 March 1956. The unconventional spire (known as a flèche) is 80 feet (24 m) tall and was lowered onto the flat roof by a helicopter, flown by Wing Commander John Dowling in April 1962.

The cathedral was consecrated on 25 May 1962, and Benjamin Britten's War Requiem, composed for the occasion, was premiered in the new cathedral on 30 May to mark its consecration.

Coventry's new cathedral adopted a modernist design. The interior is notable for its huge tapestry (once thought to be the world's largest) of Christ, designed by Graham Sutherland, the emotive sculpture of the Mater Dolorosa by John Bridgeman in the East end, and the Baptistry window designed by John Piper (made by Patrick Reyntiens), of abstract design that occupies the full height of the bowed baptistery, which comprises 195 panes, ranging from white to deep colours. The stained glass windows in the Nave, by Lawrence Lee, Keith New and Geoffrey Clarke, face away from the congregation. Spence's concept for these Nave windows was that the opposite pairs would represent a pattern of growth from birth to old age, culminating in heavenly glory nearest the altar—one side representing Human, the other side, the Divine. Also worthy of note is the Great West Window known as the Screen of Saints and Angels, engraved directly onto the screen in expressionist style by John Hutton. The foundation stone, the ten stone panels inset into the walls of the cathedral called the Tablets of the Word, and the baptismal font were designed and carved by the émigré German letter carver Ralph Beyer.

View from the old cathedral ruins through to shadows on the new.

View from the old cathedral ruins through to shadows on the new.

Chapel of Christ the Servant.

Chapel of Christ the Servant.

St Michael

St Michael

Fist of St Michael

Fist of St Michael

The Hutton glass screen of angels and saints.

The Hutton glass screen of angels and saints.

Hutton's screen seen from the old cathedral.

Hutton's screen seen from the old cathedral.

The old spire inset with the new mirrored.

The old spire inset with the new mirrored.

Both cathedrals joined.

Both cathedrals joined.

The Chapel of Unity.

The Chapel of Unity.

West wall.

West wall.

Interior view of the Hutton screen, through to the old ruins.

Interior view of the Hutton screen, through to the old ruins.

The 81 feet high Baptistery Window containing a total of 195 lights of stained glass in bright primary colours designed by John Piper. Each individual window contains an abstract design, but the overall effect is breathtaking. Basil Spence himself designed the stone window.

The 81 feet high Baptistery Window containing a total of 195 lights of stained glass in bright primary colours designed by John Piper. Each individual window contains an abstract design, but the overall effect is breathtaking. Basil Spence himself designed the stone window.

The nave canopy is supported on precast concrete columns, cruciform in plan, standing on bronze pins, between the concrete ribs sit thousands of Sitka spruce rafters.

The nave canopy is supported on precast concrete columns, cruciform in plan, standing on bronze pins, between the concrete ribs sit thousands of Sitka spruce rafters.

The nave canopy is supported on precast concrete columns, cruciform in plan, standing on bronze pins, between the concrete ribs sit thousands of Sitka spruce rafters.

The nave canopy is supported on precast concrete columns, cruciform in plan, standing on bronze pins, between the concrete ribs sit thousands of Sitka spruce rafters.

The interior is notable for its huge tapestry (once thought to be the world's largest) of Christ, designed by Graham Sutherland.

The interior is notable for its huge tapestry (once thought to be the world's largest) of Christ, designed by Graham Sutherland.

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