Coventry's earliest cathedral, dedicated to St Mary, was founded as a Benedictine community by Leofric, Earl of Mercia, and his wife Godiva in 1043.
Built on the site of a former religious house for nuns, its sheer size is some indication of the wealth which Coventry acquired in the middle ages.
The decision to rebuild the cathedral was taken the morning after its destruction. Rebuilding would not be an act of defiance, but rather a sign of faith, trust and hope for the future of the world. It was the vision of the Provost at the time, Dick Howard, which led the people of Coventry away from feelings of bitterness and hatred. This has led to the cathedral's Ministry of Peace and Reconciliation, which has provided spiritual and practical support, in areas of conflict throughout the world.
Shortly after the destruction, the cathedral stonemason, Jock Forbes, noticed that two of the charred medieval
roof timbers had fallen in the shape of a cross. He set them up in the ruins where they were later placed on an altar of rubble with the moving words 'Father Forgive' inscribed on the Sanctuary wall. Another cross was fashioned from three medieval nails by local priest, the Revd Arthur Wales. The Cross of Nails has become the symbol of Coventry's international ministry of reconciliation.
The competition to design the new cathedral was won
by Basil Spence, and HM The Queen laid the foundation stone on 23 March 1956. Gifts and donations flooded into Coventry, to commission works of art and to sustain future ministry. In keeping with tradition, the cathedral was to be filled with art from the leading artists of the time. Graham Sutherland's tapestry of Christ in Glory in the Tetramorph dominates the East End of the cathedral, whilst John Hutton's screen of Saints and Angels allows the spirit of the Ruins to pervade the new cathedral. Coloured light streams through John Piper's Baptistry window and Epstein's St Michael and the Devil guards the cathedral steps. Other contributors include Elizabeth Frink and Ralph Beyer.
The new cathedral was consecrated on 25 May 1962, in the presence of HM The Queen. The ruins remain hallowed ground and together the two create one living Cathedral.
© Coventry Cathedral, 2004. All rights reserved.