Until Easter, a wonderful artwork stands just below St Michael and the Devil at Coventry Cathedral: following temporary installations at both Hull and Liverpool, it’s Coventry’s turn to host the Knife Angel, a unique memorial to the victims of knife crime, made from over 100,000 knives seized by the police in the UK. It is humbling to see each day a cluster of people around the Angel, which has attracted huge attention in its time here already.
Standing so close to our two cathedrals, it occupies a good place to plant seeds of hope, inviting us all to reflect on the choices we make in life. Of course, we’re no strangers to loss, pain and destruction here, nor to making positive choices when another route might seem so much easier. I can’t imagine that Provost Howard was universally popular when, in 1940, he responded to the Coventry Blitz not with hatred or anger but with the two words which are still present in the apse of the ruined cathedral, “Father forgive”.
The power of the missing word is, I believe, Coventry’s greatest gift to the world, for where there is no “them” you are prevented from “othering” anyone, forced to recognise that we all have potential for both good and evil, that the choice is ours.
The Knife Angel, looking down at his own empty hands, is not a figure of power but of helplessness. He seems to be asking “Why? Why?” and, like us, has no answer.
While our own patron Michael, the Archangel, is confidently beating down Satan under his feet, – an angel sure of ultimate victory – Alfie Bradley’s Angel finds himself unarmed and uncertain, still in the midst of the struggle. Under his questioning gaze we can perhaps gather our thoughts, our longings for peace in the city, and make our own choice, to opt for a better tomorrow in which violence and hatred have no place.
In making something beautiful from the ugliness and violence of the knives Alfie follows a pattern that is part of the Cathedral’s own DNA – using the pain of the past to build something brighter and stronger – a peaceful future.
Of course we must not imagine for a moment that, having welcomed the Knife Angel, we have done our bit to stand against knife crime. The causes are many and complex, but the over-riding absence of hope in some parts of the community must surely be a significant part of the picture. I was particularly sad to hear how often victims are knived with their own weapons…in other words, whatever the popular narrative, carrying knives does not make anyone safer…Those who have been hurt are too often the very ones who brought weapons to the scene.
My hope and my prayer is that while he is with us, the Knife Angel will help us to review not only our own choices but the provision for those who may feel they have no choices at all.
I’m certain they do.
Please, put down your knives…
Canon Kathryn Fleming, Canon Pastor, Coventry Cathedral
Each day the Litany of Reconciliation is prayed at the Knife Angel, and the Declaration of Hope below then follows:
Today, we stand together as one.
We call for an end to the violence and aggression in our city that causes division, despair and death.
We long for a shared future where our homes and our streets are safe places again.
We declare that the power of love & forgiveness is stronger than the power of fear and revenge.
We will each play our part.
We will not be afraid.
Today we choose to believe in hope.
The Knife Angel took two years to create, and is a national monument against violence and aggression. It was created by artist Alfie Bradley at the British Ironwork Centre in Oswestry, Shropshire, this is the first time it has been on display in the Midlands as part of a UK tour having been to Liverpool and Hull. It stands at 27-feet and is made up of 100,000 weapons confiscated by police forces across the country in 2015/16, and was made in response to the growing issue of knife crime in cities across the country. It serves as a physical reminder of the impact of knife crime on people’s lives and a memorial to those who have lost their lives, and is designed to provoke conversations around the issue.
Coventry City of Culture Trust is leading a city partnership including the City Council, Cathedral, Positive Youth Foundation, Coventry Youth Partnership, Coventry University and Herbert Gallery and Museum working together to highlight how art and culture should provoke serious and meaningful conversations on the most difficult subjects. Being UK City of Culture in 2021 is more than a year-long festival and celebration. The City of Culture Trust aims to create a movement for social change and through the build-up, in 2021 and across the longer term legacy to put culture as a driver of real and lasting positive benefits to communities across Coventry.