Cathedral Church of St Michael, commonly known as Coventry
Cathedral, is the seat of the
Coventry and the
Coventry, in Coventry, West Midlands, England. The current (9th)
Christopher Cocksworth and the current Dean is John
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,
that 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.
1 St Mary's Priory
2 St Michael's Cathedral
2.1 First structure
2.2 Present structure
3 Theological emphasis
4 The Charred Cross and the Cross of Nails
5.2 Directors of Music
5.3 Assistant organists
6 Dean and chapter
9 See also
11 External links
St Mary's Priory
Main article: St Mary's Priory and Cathedral
The first cathedral in
Coventry was St Mary's Priory and Cathedral,
1095 to 1102, when
Robert de Limesey moved the bishop's see from
Lichfield to Coventry, until 1539 when it fell victim to Henry
VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries. Prior to 1095, it had been a
Benedictine monastery (endowed by
Leofric, Earl of Mercia
Leofric, Earl of Mercia and
Lady Godiva in 1043), Shortly after 1095 rebuilding began and by
the middle of the 13th century it was a cathedral of 142 yards in
length and included many large outbuildings. Leofric was probably
buried within the original Saxon church in Coventry. However, records
suggest that Godiva was buried at Evesham Abbey, alongside her father
confessor, Prior Aefic.
St Michael's Cathedral
The roofless ruins of the old cathedral.
St Michael's Church was largely constructed between the late 14th
century and early 15th century. It was one of the largest parish
churches in England when, in 1918, it was elevated to cathedral status
on the creation of
Coventry Diocese. This St Michael's Cathedral
now stands ruined, bombed almost to destruction during the Coventry
Blitz of 14 November 1940 by the German Luftwaffe. Only the tower,
spire, the outer wall and the bronze effigy and tomb of its first
bishop, Huyshe Yeatman-Biggs, survived. The ruins of this older
cathedral remain hallowed ground and are listed at Grade I.
Following the bombing of the medieval cathedral in 1940, Provost
Richard Howard had the words "Father Forgive" inscribed on the wall
behind the altar of the ruined building. The spire rises to 90 m
(295 ft) and is the tallest structure in the city. It is also
the third tallest cathedral spire in England, with only Salisbury and
Norwich cathedrals rising higher.
The new cathedral as seen from the tower of the old cathedral.
The interior of the new cathedral.
The current St Michael's Cathedral, built next to the remains of the
old, was designed by
Basil Spence and Arup, built by John Laing 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 Hollington sandstone for the new
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.
Christ in Glory tapestry by Graham Sutherland
Coventry's modernist design caused much discussion, but on opening to
the public it rapidly became a hugely popular symbol of reconciliation
in post-war Britain. 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. (Although referred to as the West Window, this
is the 'liturgical west' opposite the altar which is traditionally at
the east end. In this cathedral the altar is actually at the north
end.) 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
St Michael's Victory over the Devil, a sculpture by Jacob Epstein.
As the cathedral was built on the site of a
there has always been a gentle
Benedictine influence on the cathedral
community. A number of the cathedral staff become third order (lay)
Benedictines and there are often cathedral retreats to Burford Priory.
Since the opening of the new cathedral in 1962 there has been a gentle
evangelical emphasis. This has been strengthened by the former Dean,
John Irvine, who was involved in creating the
Alpha Course and
previously served at Holy Trinity Brompton, and also as vicar of the
first Brompton church plant, St Barnabas, Kensington. The cathedral
has a strong emphasis on the Bible and aims to be a
centre for good preaching and training for the diocese. It runs
regular mission events such as the innovative Spirit of Life days
where over 2,000 local residents are encouraged to explore their faith
in God through Christian spirituality.
The cathedral is also known for innovation in its services. As well as
the expected traditional services (on Sundays,
Cathedral Eucharist at
10.30 a.m. and Choral Evensong at 4.00 p.m.), there is a 6.30 p.m.
Sunday service with contemporary music, preaching and prayer ministry.
Cathedral Youth Work runs Goth church and Urban Church outreach
congregations for local groups of young people, an equipping and
supporting cell group for youth workers within
Coventry churches as
well as a number of other regular groups. There continues to be a
strong influence of reconciliation within the theology (both vertical:
reconciling people to God; and horizontal: reconciling individuals and
groups). This is present throughout the ministry of the cathedral but
is most clearly seen in the International Centre for Reconciliation
and the International Network of Communities of the Cross of Nails.
The reconciliation work exists locally in reconciling churches and
community groups but also internationally (predominantly in the Middle
East and central Africa) working with terrorists and dictators as well
as local churches, tribes and gangs.
Justin Welby (then a canon of the cathedral) established a special day
for bereaved parents in the cathedral after the death of his own
daughter. There is now an annual service commemorating the lives of
children who have died. A book with the names of lost children is on
display in the cathedral and anyone who has lost a child under any
circumstances can ask for their child's name to be added to the
The Charred Cross and the Cross of Nails
Cross of Nails donated to the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church.
The spire of the original St Michael's
Cathedral remains to this day.
The Charred Cross and the Cross of Nails were created after the
cathedral was bombed during the
Coventry Blitz of the Second World
War. The cathedral stonemason, Jock Forbes, saw two wooden beams lying
in the shape of a cross and tied them together. A replica of the
Charred Cross built in 1964 has replaced the original in the ruins of
the old cathedral on an altar of rubble. The original is now kept on
the stairs linking the cathedral with St Michael's Hall below.
The Cross of Nails was made of three nails from the roof truss of the
old cathedral by Provost Richard Howard of
Cathedral at the
suggestion of a young friend, The Rev. A.P. Wales. It was later
transferred to the new cathedral, where it sits in the centre of the
altar cross. It has become a symbol of peace and reconciliation across
the world. There are over 330 Cross of Nails Centres all over the
world, all of them bearing a cross made of three nails from the ruins,
similar to the original one. When there were no more of these nails, a
continuing supply have come from a prison in Germany. They are
co-ordinated by the International Centre for Reconciliation.
One of the crosses made of nails from the old cathedral was donated to
Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church
Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in Berlin, which was destroyed by
Allied bombing and is also kept as a ruin alongside a newer building.
A replica of the cross of nails was also donated to the Chapel of
Reconciliation (Kapelle der Versöhnung) which forms part of the
Berlin Wall Memorial. A copy of the
Stalingrad Madonna by Kurt Reuber
that was drawn in 1942 in
Stalingrad (now Volgograd) is shown in the
cathedrals of all three cities (Berlin,
Coventry and Volgograd) as a
sign of the reconciliation of the three countries that were once
A medieval cross of nails has also been carried on board all British
warships who subsequently bear the name HMS Coventry. The
cross of nails was on board the
Type 42 destroyer
Type 42 destroyer
Coventry when she
was sunk by enemy action in the Falklands War. The cross was salvaged
Royal Navy divers, and presented to
Cathedral by the
ship's Captain and colleagues. The cross was subsequently
presented first to the next
Coventry in 1988 until she was
decommissioned in 2002, and then to HMS Diamond, which is
affiliated to Coventry, during her commissioning ceremony on 6 May
2011 by Captain David Hart-Dyke, the commanding officer of Coventry
when she was sunk.
BBC broadcast a documentary in 1962 entitled Act of Faith, narrated by
Leo Genn, detailed the history of
Coventry Cathedral, its destruction
The precentor of the new
Cathedral at the opening service was
Joseph Poole. The service was televised and watched by many.
The cathedral has a pipe organ by Harrison & Harrison dating from
1962. A specification of the organ can be found on the National Pipe
Directors of Music
Harry Crane Perrin (afterwards organist of Canterbury Cathedral)
Walter Hoyle (first organist of the cathedral)
David Foster Lepine
Paul Leddington Wright (now Assistant Director of Music)
David Poulter (subsequently organist of Chester
Cathedral and Director
of Music at Liverpool Cathedral)
Rupert Jeffcoat (subsequently director of music and organist at
Alistair Reid (acting director of music)
This list is incomplete; you can help by expanding it.
Allan Hawthorne-Baker 1934–39
Robert George Weddle 1964–72 (then organist)
J. Richard Lowry 1972–76
Ian Little 1976–77 (then organist)
Paul Leddington Wright 1977–present
David Poulter 1990–1995 (then director of music)
Daniel Moult 1995–2002
Alistair Reid 2004–11
Laurence Lyndon-Jones 2011–13
Dean and chapter
As of 12 January 2018:
John Witcombe (since 19 January 2013)
Precentor and Sub-Dean — David Stone (canon since 5 September
2010; sub-dean since April 2014)
Pastor — Kathryn Fleming (since 31 May 2014)
Canon for Reconciliation — Sarah Hills (since 14 September 2014)
Gerard la Pucelle,
Coventry (1918–22) — a bronze
effigy of him, commissioned by Hamo Thornycroft, was the only artefact
to survive the bombing of the old
Cathedral in 1940
Winston Churchill visiting the ruins of the old cathedral in 1941.
The surviving tower and steeple, which functions as a working bell
Effigy and tomb of Huyshe Yeatman-Biggs, first
Bishop of Coventry.
Josefina de Vasconcellos' statue Reconciliation in the old cathedral's
The baptistry window by John Piper from inside the cathedral.
The font, a boulder from Bethlehem.
The top of spire of the new cathedral.
Chapel of Christ in Gethsemane, mosaic by Steven Sykes
Coventry Chronological list of Provosts and Deans
List of cathedrals in the United Kingdom
Grade I listed buildings in Coventry
Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, its German counterpart in Berlin
^ Nicolas, Nicholas Harris (1825). A synopsis of the peerage of
England: exhibiting, under alphabetical arrangement, the date of
creation, descent and present state of every title of peerage which
has existed in this country since the conquest... J. Nichols and son.
^ Page, William (1908). The City of Coventry: Churches: Introduction.
A History of the County of Warwick: Volume 8: The City of
Borough of Warwick.
^ Vail, Anne (2004). Shrines of Our Lady in England. Gracewing
Publishing. p. 56. ISBN 978-0852446034.
^ McGrory, David (1 October 2003). A history of Coventry. Phillimore.
p. 17. ISBN 978-1860772641. (Subscription required
^ Pepin, David (2004). Discovering Cathedrals. Bloomsbury USA.
p. 58. ISBN 9780747805977. (Subscription required
^ Historic England. "Ruined
Cathedral Church of St Michael, Coventry
(1076651)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 14 December
^ Demidowicz, George (2003). Buildings of Coventry: an illustrated
architectural history. Stroud: Tempus. p. 28.
ISBN 978-0752431154. (Subscription required (help)).
^ "Sir Basil Spence". The Guardian. 24 September 2007. Retrieved 31
^ Historic England. "
Cathedral of St Michael,
National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 14 December 2012.
^ Mansell, George (1979). Anatomy of architecture. A & W
Publishers. p. 178. ISBN 978-0894790430. (Subscription
^ Thomas, John (1987).
Coventry Cathedral. Unwin Hyman. p. 129.
ISBN 978-0044400110. (Subscription required (help)).
^ "Wing Commander John Dowling". The Daily Telegraph. 28 July 2000.
Retrieved 31 March 2012.
^ Havighurst, Alfred F. (15 September 1985). Britain in Transition:
The Twentieth Century. University of Chicago Press. p. 643.
ISBN 978-0226319704. (Subscription required (help)).
^ Roncace, Mark; Gray, Patrick (5 November 2007). Teaching the Bible
Through Popular Culture and the Arts. Society of Biblical Lit.
^ Lutwyche, Jayne; Millington, Karen (9 November 2012). "The new
Archbishop of Canterbury: 10 lesser-known things".
BBC News. Retrieved
9 November 2012.
^ "Cross of nails recovered from wreck of HMS
Coventry goes to Royal
Navy's newest warship".
Coventry Telegraph. 26 April 2013. Retrieved
31 August 2017.
^ The Army quarterly and defence journal, Volume 113. West of England
Press. p. 229.
^ "Navy's newest ship will carry a poignant reminder of the past". The
Portsmouth News. 7 May 2011. Retrieved 7 May 2011.
^ Baker, Simon; Terris, Olwen, eds. (February 1994). A to Z: A for
Andromeda to Zoo time : the TV holdings of the National Film and
Television Archive, 1936–1979. British Film Institute.
^ "St Michael". English Cathedrals Music. 14 November 1998. Retrieved
31 August 2017.
^ Stephens, W B, ed. (1969). "The City of Coventry: Churches, Churches
built before 1800". A History of the County of Warwick: Volume 8, the
Coventry and Borough of Warwick. London: British History
Online. pp. 321–361. Retrieved 31 August 2017.
Cathedral — Our leadership team (Accessed 12 January
Cathedral Eucharist Sermons".
Coventry Cathedral. Archived from the
original on 2 November 2012. Retrieved 6 January 2013.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to
Cathedral official website
Further reading about Coventry's three Cathedrals
Virtual tour of both the new cathedral and the ruins
The Cross of Nails website
Flickr images tagged
Details of the organ from the National Pipe Organ Register
Photograph of interior prior to destruction
Article about the cathedral's medieval stained glass[permanent dead
Cathedrals of the Church of England
London, St Paul's
Oxford, Christ Church
Newcastle upon Tyne
Provosts and Deans of Coventry