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The Ruins & New Cathedral

Sacred spaces in which to reflect - and have fun

In the remains of Coventry's second cathedral, and its magnificent, modernist third, there is a lot to see and explore, great and small.

When you come to see us, it's best to see the Ruins first (ideally entering from Cuckoo Lane) and only then to explore the New Cathedral. In both cases, you'll understand and enjoy them much more, if you know what to look for and what it means.

Not quite 500 years

For example, as mentioned in the timeline on the History page, the Ruins wasn't Coventry's first cathedral - that one was destroyed in Henry VIII's time, in the Dissolution of the Monasteries. In fact, magnificent as it was, the Ruins you see today only was a cathedral for the last 22 of its 490 years. Until 1918, St Michael's was simply an impressively large, traditional parish church.

Ruin and resolve

A decade before its 500th birthday, the bombs fell. Standing in the Ruins now, you can imagine how it was during the bombing, as well as before.

Today you can see the ancient walls, the burnt cross, made from charred remains the morning after the bombing and several works of art, installed since. These include Jacob Epstein's sculpture of a defiant Christ in chains before Pontius Pilate. Fittingly, perhaps, it was widely loathed and mocked when created in 1934 (the Daily Mirror refused to show a photograph of it). Now, with its ancient South American influences, it looks impressive and way ahead of its time.

The Ruins as a whole is a testament to the destruction of both the Cathedral and, on the same night in 1940, much of Coventry. Already that year, Coventry had suffered 17 bombing raids, causing 176 deaths. Then, on the night of 14th November, so many bombs were dropped during a single raid that over 4,300 Coventry homes were destroyed and 568 people lost their lives. The centre of Coventry was all but obliterated.

Yet, from the very next day, the determination grew amongst the Cathedral and the people of Coventry to seek reconciliation, not revenge - and to express that determination in preserving their destroyed cathedral beside a new one, devoted to transforming attitudes.

Learn more about The Ruins

The New Cathedral: embodying transformation

The New Cathedral is almost shockingly modern - and designed to reveal its charms only slowly. On entering via the "West" window (it actually faces south), your attention will be drawn towards the huge tapestry, filling the wall at the opposite end of the nave. The tapestry is usually bathed in light, yet almost no windows are visible: just tall, grey walls. With your back to the entrance, only one window can be seen - but it is big, beautifully colourful, especially at the start of each day, when sunlight shines directly through it. At its foot, for baptisms which mark new life and beginnings, is the Bethlehem font, carved from a rock brought here from the birthplace of Christ.

The position of the Baptismal window and font at this end of the nave, is a clue. As you make your way along its length, the side windows, each symbolising the trials of life, reveal themselves. Eventually, you reach the altar and the Cross of Nails: death. Yet you can go further still, to the Lady Chapel and the great Sutherland Tapestry depicting Christ in Glory, after death. And from this 'Resurrection perspective', the New Cathedral looks very different, indeed.

Learn more about The New Cathedral

Five Chapels, works of art and more

The New Cathedral also holds many works of art, all highly symbolic. Some of these are within the nave, but many are in one of the five separate chapels, accessed via the nave. You can see where they are and find out all about them via the floorplan on Our Buildings page here.

Explore our Cathedral

Tower Climb

180 steps to magnificent views of Coventry and the surrounding area.

Read more
Transformation
stories
Sci-Fi Horror to the Triumph of Good
Jacob Epstein's grand finale at Coventry Cathedral

Full story
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