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Reconciliation ministry

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On the night of 14th November, 1940, Coventry and its Cathedral endured a relentless bombing campaign. Overnight, the ‘Moonlight Sonata’ offensive destroyed much of central Coventry, hundreds of its people and left its Cathedral in ruins. Only the outer shell of the walls and the tower remained standing.

In the days that followed, two enduring symbols emerged from the rubble: two charred roof-beams which had fallen in the shape of a cross were bound and placed at the site of the ruined altar, and three medieval roof nails were also formed into a cross, which became the original Cross of Nails (now located at the High Altar in the new Cathedral).

Shortly after, the words ‘Father Forgive’ – deliberately neutral in content – were inscribed on the wall of the ruined chancel, and Provost Dick Howard made a commitment to not seek revenge, but to strive for forgiveness and reconciliation with those responsible.

During the BBC radio broadcast from the Cathedral ruins on Christmas Day 1940 he declared that when the war was over we should work with those who had been enemies ‘to build a kinder, more Christ Child-like world.’

The Cross of Nails quickly became a potent sign of friendship and hope in the post-war years, especially in new relationships with Germany and the developing links between Coventry and the cities of Kiel, Dresden and Berlin. Learn more here

Coventry Cathedral is thus one of the world’s oldest religious-based centres for reconciliation, and its work in recent decades has involved it in some of the world’s most difficult and long-standing areas of conflict. Today the medieval ruins continue to remind us of our human capacity both to destroy and to reach out to our enemies in friendship and reconciliation.

“It’s about taking the risk of doing precisely what Jesus did, and asked his disciples to do. To love their enemies.”
— Revd Canon Paul Oestreicher, Canon for Reconciliation, Coventry Cathedral, 1985–97

Litany of Reconciliation

The words 'Father Forgive' are used as the response in the Coventry Litany of Reconciliation, written by Canon Joseph Poole in 1958, which is prayed in the new Cathedral every weekday at noon, and throughout the world by partners in the Community of the Cross of Nails.

All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

The hatred which divides nation from nation, race from race, class from class,

Father forgive.

The covetous desires of people and nations to possess what is not their own,

Father, forgive.

The greed which exploits the work of human hands and lays waste the earth,

Father, forgive.

Our envy of the welfare and happiness of others,

Father, forgive.

Our indifference to the plight of the imprisoned, the homeless, the refugee,

Father, forgive.

The lust which dishonours the bodies of men, women and children,

Father, forgive.

The pride which leads us to trust in ourselves and not in God,

Father, forgive.

Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.


Reflections on Reconciliation

Four of the people who have been Canons for Reconciliation here at Coventry Cathedral — Justin Welby, Paul Oestreicher, David Porter and Sarah Hills — share their reflections on reconciliation.

“You have never really engaged in the work of reconciliation until your own people feel that you have betrayed them.”
— John Paul Lederach, Professor of International Peacebuilding, University of Notre Dame, Indiana
Bombing, to building
The personal journey of a military man

Full story
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