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Coventry Cathedral

From Academic Kids

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The roofless ruins of the old cathedral.
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The exterior of the ruins of the old cathedral
The exterior of the new Cathedral
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The exterior of the new Cathedral
St Michael's Victory over the Devil, a sculpture by Sir .
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St Michael's Victory over the Devil, a sculpture by Sir Jacob Epstein.

The city of Coventry, West Midlands, England is unusual in that it has had three cathedrals. The first was St. Mary's, a monastic building, only a few ruins of which remain. The second was St. Michael's, an Anglican cathedral and now a ruined shell since the Second World War. The third is the new St. Michael's rising like a phoenix from the ashes out of the destruction of the former and a celebration of 20th century architecture.

The original St Michael's Cathedral was largely constructed between the late 14th century and early 15th century but now stands ruined, bombed almost to destruction on November 14, 1940 by the German Luftwaffe. Only the tower and spire along with the outer wall survived. Before 1918 it was the church of St Michael, the largest parish church in England, but in that year was elevated to cathedral status after a revision of the diocese. The new St Michael's cathedral, built next to the remains of the old, was designed by Basil Spence. The ruin of the older cathedral remains hallowed ground. A cross made of nails from the cathedral was donated to the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in Berlin, which was destroyed by allied bomb attacks and is also kept as a ruin alongside a newer building. A copy of a graphic by Kurt Reubers that was drawn in 1942 in Stalingrad (now Volgograd) is shown in the cathedrals of all three cities as sign for reconciliation of the three countries that were once enemies.

Basil 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 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.

The foundation stone of the new cathedral was laid by the Queen on March 23, 1956. It was consecrated on May 25, 1962, on the same day as the new Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, and — like its German counterpart — its modern design caused much controversy. The unconventional spire (known as a fleche) was lowered onto the flat roof by helicopter. The interior is notable for a large tapestry of Christ, designed by Graham Sutherland and for the Baptistry window designed by John Piper. This is a stained glass window of abstract design which occupies the full height of one wall. It is compounded from 195 elemental panes of startlingly bright primary colours. Also worthy of note is the Great West Window known as the "Screen of Saints and Angels", engraved by John Hutton. Although referred to as the West Window, this is the ecclesiastical west as it lies at the opposite end from the altar which is traditionally at the east end of a church. Due to the unorthodox orientation of this cathedral, the altar is actually at the north end.

The cathedrals of St Michael were Coventry's second and third in its history. The first cathedral in Coventry was St Mary's priory and cathedral, which held such status from some time between 1095 and 1102 when the infamous Bishop Robert de Limesey moved the Bishop's see from Lichfield to Coventry, until 1539 when it fell victim to King Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries. Prior to 1095, it had been a small Benedictine monastery, (endowed by Earl Leofric and Lady Godiva in 1043) but shortly after this time rebuilding began and by the middle of the 13th century it was cathedral of 425 feet in length and included many large outbuildings. It was recorded that Leofric and Godiva were buried together inside.

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