Sunday, November 4, 2012


The library was closed today, so I decided that, despite the cold and the rain, I would go visit Coventry and see the ruins of the cathedral that were left just as they were when the fires were put out after the bombing in 1940.

There are, in fact, the ruins of two churches in the center of the city. One is an active archaeological site where they are excavating a church and priory that were razed after the English civil war. They've done the displays quite well; for example, they marked where the walls of the original cloister would have been with very simple, new, modern, tree-lined walls; and they've exposed the original architecture within the setting of the city:

The main thing, of course, though, is not this cathedral, but the other one:

 They have inscribed the words Father, Forgive in gilt lettering behind what used to be the altar. Above it is a replica of what was left of the cross after the blaze was extinguished; the original is in the new cathedral.

I love the aesthetics of sacred architecture, but I'm not a moved-to-tears type; I don't need the fingers of even one hand to count the places that have so moved me. But in such a place, a medieval cathedral open to the sky and the elements and with the weight of the whole twentieth century pushing in on you from all sides like the deep, what do you do but stand, and weep, and pray?

The narrative on the signs and in the flyers pitches this as a "site of peace and reconciliation." I can see the first, but I'm not sure I see this as a monument to reconciliation. To forgiving and never forgetting, perhaps. But a monument to reconciliation, even if that reconciliation has indeed been achieved? No. This is something else.

The ruin speaks for itself:

This is the whole complex, with the exterior of the new cathedral on the right. The ruins still officially hold cathedral status, as well:

It's very modern because there's really nothing else to do when building a cathedral at mid-century, in the shadow of all of that:

And here, it is visible through the bombed-out window frames:


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