A message from the Chairman of
The Friends of Coventry Cathedral
CHRISTMAS 2021 RANG out around the Cathedral at the start of December at the NSPCC Carol Concerts featuring the Coventry Cathedral Chorus which is where these pictures were taken.
As Christmas Day approached the FRIENDS offer of half-price tickets to MESSIAH sung by the Chorus proved extremely popular with our members. That was Paul Leddington Wright's final concert as Director of the Cathedral Chorus. Dean John Witcombe invested Paul with the honorary title of Organist Emeritus.
A Members Exclusive
USHERING IN THE New Year with a bang is the re-designed FRIENDS WEBSITEthatnow has content that can only be accessed by members of the FRIENDS of Coventry Cathedral.
When you log on to
you can subscribe by entering your email address. (You are already a member so you do not need to join again.) This gives you exclusive access to members’ material. There is a list below of stories available exclusively to members. Light reading for New Year’s Day!
In order to protect access the email address that you use to receive this newsletter has been noted by the website administrator. This enables you to set up your own password so that access is security-protected. To keep in touch through the website please let the membership secretary know if you change your email address for communications with the FRIENDS.
NEW YEAR --- NEW WEBSITE!
THE OFFER BY the FRIENDS to double the donation of any member to the Cathedral Organ Renovation Fund proved so popular with our members that the Friends Council has extended the Double Your Money offer until the end of January.
So if you have delayed because good intentions were overtaken by events, or if you wish to boost the Fund with a further gift there is just a short time left to act!
The current total raised by the FRIENDS exceeds £5000. Your donation can be boosted by the addition of Gift Aid where that is available.
The fitting of the Coventry Cathedral organ started in 1959 after seven years work on its design and manufacture. It was designed and made by Harrison and Harrison of Durham.
The specification was worked out by a team of experts led by Dr Sidney Campbell, organist at St George’s, Windsor. The organ is unique with a range of pipes designed to be flexible enough to do justice to music from the Baroque and Romantic periods as well as being capable of the sharper, fiery sounds often demanded by music of the modern repertoire.
I first heard the organ played in 1962, but it was a particularly magical organ recital by Fernando Germani in 1964 that caused me to fall in love with it. He was the official Vatican organist at St Peter’s in Rome, and his playing touched my heart. As you see from my recital programme I was cheeky enough to ask for his autograph.
In the week after his recital I bought an EP (remember those?) of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor that he recorded, but I eventually wore it out! The top photographs show workmen fitting the Coventry organ console and beside them is the first rough sketch design of the organ pipe layout that Basil Spence gave to Harrison and Harrison.
In the lower photographs you see workmen fitting the organ pipes and the console surround. On the far right is a photo taken just weeks before the Cathedral consecration when the dust sheets were set aside to allow the first Cathedral Director of Music, David Lepine, time to practice for the service.
If you wish to take advantage before it expires of the FRIENDS Double Your Money offer for donations to the Organ Fund there are two ways in which payments can be made.
Cheques payable to the Friends of Coventry Cathedral can be sent to 63 Daventry Road, Coventry CV3 5DH.
Payment can also be made direct to the Friends of Coventry Cathedral bank account at HSBC, PO BOX 24, City Branch, Coventry CV1 1QJ
Sort code 40 18 17 Account number 80360244
marking the payment “Organ Appeal”. If you pay your contribution direct to our bank, please confirm by email to [email protected].
Coming in 2022
GHOSTS IN THE RUINS by NITIN SAWHNEY receives its world premiere later this month. Commissioned as part of the City of Culture Year, it was also supported by a funding grant from the FRIENDS. NITIN SAWHNEY is a musician who was not on my radar until I learned of the Cathedral commission. If like me you would like to know more about him there is a revealing interview now available on BBC Iplayer in the HARDTALK series. There are also scores of Sawhney music samples on Youtube.
For the Coventry Cathedral commission he has looked at themes of healing, resilience, and reconciliation in relation to contemporary conflicts in the world. The performance includes visual images by the artist Mark Murphy projected onto the interior walls of the Cathedral. Coventry Cathedral Choristers will take part. Performances are on 27th,28th and 29th January 2022. Tickets can be booked online using the link – https://coventry2021.co.uk/what-s-on/nitin-sawhney-ghosts-in-the-ruins
The composer will answer questions at the Thursday performance. TICKETS are also available from the City of Culture shop in Hertford Place.
RICHARD SADLER was one of Coventry’s most famous photographers, and he took many wonderful photographs of Coventry Cathedral in the late 1950s and 1960s. He captured views of the Cathedral that have long since disappeared.
In 2022 to celebrate the 60th Anniversary of the Cathedral’s Consecration members of the FRIENDS are working with Coventry Photo Miners backed by the City Of Culture Trust to produce an exhibition of the Sadler Cathedral photographs. During May 2022 there will be a photographic exhibition in the Old Grammar School, Hales Street. At the same time there will be an online exhibition with a recorded commentary.
Photo Miners invites help with the selection and the captioning of the photographs. The online exhibition will include recordings of the captions for each photograph, and a varied mix of voices is needed to enhance it. What about your voice?
THE BROKEN ANGELproject started with the work of Anne Petters that will remain on display in the Cathedral until February. As the year proceeds two further artists will be asked to contribute their responses to the empty glass pane in the west screen of the Cathedral where John Hutton’s engraved Angel was once displayed.
The curator working with the Cathedral for the project is Professor Michael Tooby of Bath School of Art & Design, Bath Spa University. He is looking for people interested in art in the Cathedral to help him to select and brief the third artist whose work will appear later in the year.
REV MARY GREGORY has been appointed as Canon for Arts and Reconciliation at the Cathedral and will start work in March 2022.
She is currently Team Rector of the Flagstaff Family of Churches, and Rural Mission Enabler, in the Diocese of Leicester.
ARCHBISHOP DESMOND TUTU died on the 26th December 2021. The photographs are a reminder of the Archbishop’s visit to Coventry Cathedral during Peace Week 1989.
THE COMMANDER’S CROSS of the Order of Merit has been awarded to Bishop Christopher Cocksworth, Bishop of Coventry. He is President of the FRIENDS.
It was conferred on the Bishop by Andreas Michaelis, German Ambassador to Britain, in a ceremony at the German Embassy in October.
The Ambassador paid tribute to Bishop Cocksworth:
“You are an outstanding bridge builder, an ardent champion of reconciliation and peace, and a staunch and inspirational campaigner against prejudice and injustice.
You nurture the spiritual legacy of reconciliation through your very close ties with Germany, as well as your inspiring dedication to Coventry’s twinning with Kiel and with Dresden.”
WITH THE APPROACH of Epiphany in few days' time I share with you “Birth and the Three Wise Men” (1954), an etching, aquatint and drypoint, by Geoffrey Clarke, the sculptor of the Cathedral’s high altar cross. This etching came to my attention when it was recently offered for sale at auction .
DID SANTA BRING you the latest Coventry Edition of the board game MONOPOLY?
This latest version of MONOPOLY was produced in celebration of Coventry's year as UK City of Culture. Coventry Cathedral is well represented on the board.
Amongst the green spaces the Cathedral has -
● St. Mary’s Priory & Cathedral (replacing Regent Street)
● The New Cathedral (replacing Oxford Street)
● The Old Cathedral (replacing Bond Street).
There was a previous Coventry edition of the game back in 2012, and at that time the Cathedral landed the prestigious Mayfair space on the game board.
Dean John Irvine in the Cathedral Ruins held up a huge replica Monopoly board to help its promotion. (photo right)
In the latest version the Mayfair space is occupied by Lady Godiva.
MUNICH WAS THE destination of Dean Witcombe and Bishop Cocksworth in December when they visited the Catholic Academy of Bavaria to receive the Academy’s 2020 Ecumenical Prize on behalf of the Community of the Cross of Nails.
The prize of 10,000 euros was awarded to the CCN “as a worldwide ecumenical network working for peace and reconciliation.” The Academy particularly wished to honour Christian-motivated work of reconciliation between the British and German peoples as a template for other forms of reconciliation work across faith boundaries and across other divisions in the era of Brexit.
The award presentation had been delayed for a year by the Covid-19 travel restrictions. The prize will help the organisation of a major CCN youth gathering later this year.
John Laing in the News
JOHN LAING WAS the construction company that built Coventry Cathedral. Amongst the diverse range of completed projects in the portfolio of the company our Cathedral stands alongside the M1 motorway and Sizewell B nuclear power station.
There have been many changes in the John Laing company since the opening of the new Cathedral in 1962, but in the last twelve months the takeover of the company by a huge US private equity firm has been making headlines right across the business press.
The John Laing company was originally established in 1848 as a building company based in Carlisle, in the North West of England. It remained a family firm that grew and grew until it became a limited company in 1920 and moved to London to service its growing national client base. During WWII it was one of the builders of Mulberry Harbour units.
The Chairman who signed the contract to build Coventry Cathedral was John William Laing, whose sons William Kirby Laing and John Maurice Laing, were joint managing directors. In 1955 the company won the contract to build the foundations, and three years later won the contract for the Cathedral’s construction.
A later private letter written by Maurice Laing to Basil Spence was disclosed in “The Good Builder” (Berry Ritchie) in which the company indicated that upon completion any profit made from the Cathedral construction contract would be returned to the Cathedral. Spence “was greatly impressed by Laing’s workmanship, which was even more meticulous than usual thanks to a letter to all senior staff asking them to bear in mind that this was a building that should endure for a thousand years”.
In 2021 the private equity firm KKR agreed to buy the John Laing Group in a deal valued at £2 billion. The deal was recommended by the company to its shareholders and was approved by the court in September 2021.
KKR is one of the world’s largest infrastructure capital managers and the John Laing Group is regarded in the UK as one of the most experienced developers in the public-private partnership market. Private finance initiative deals have used the company to build hospitals, roads and schools across the country.
Boris Johnson has undertaken to invest £600bn in infrastructure projects over the next six years. With other governments around the world also promising huge rises in infrastructure expenditure as part of their Covid-19 recovery plans, the attraction of this international deal is clear.
AMUSING FOOTNOTE: In the course of the Cathedral’s construction many of the Laing builders wore donkey jackets bearing the bold yellow company legend “L”. As she looked across the building site from the Ruins, an inquisitive visitor asked the Cathedral steward, “Is it just the Learner builders who wear jackets with an L?”. (from the Cathedral Magazine 1957)
The Friends membership application form is available online –
IN 1984 THE Coventry Cathedral Choir undertook a non-stop singing tour of the USA, with 17 singing occasions over a period of 14 days. The FRIENDS of Coventry Cathedral fitted the choir with new surplices before they left and the photograph shows John Viner, Chairman, presenting the surplices to the youngest singer in the choir, Matthew Williams. Provost Colin Semper stands in the middle of the group, and wearing his cassock without surplice is Tim Hone, Assistant Director of Music.
Members of the 1984 touring party and all other Coventry Cathedral ex-choristers are invited to the Grand Reunion of former choristers that takes place in May 2022. To discover more about the Reunion all former Cathedral choristers are invited to get in touch with Mike Smith, who is coordinating the event.
IN THE NAVE there are now large touchscreens telling the story of the Cathedral building, of its builders and of its purpose.
The touchscreens are part of the Cathedral's programme to interpret the heritage and spirituality of our site for all visitors to the building. The Centre for the Study of Christianity & Culture, University of York, undertook research and devised the programme. New signage has been placed both in and outside the new Cathedral building. The project is led by Dr Louise Hampson.
The research indicated that of 300,000 people entering the Cathedral Ruins only about 17,000 went from there into the new Cathedral building. The findings also revealed that across the city the Cathedral Ruins were generally thought to be a public facility run by the Council. The aim of the new interpretation strategy is to highlight the fact that the Cathedral Ruins are a consecrated site and part of the whole Coventry Cathedral, which is made up of a medieval church and the modern building.
Specially designed fixed signage around the exterior of the building includes within it QR access codes that lead to extensive web-enabled content. Use of the internet in this way keeps visual intrusion to a minimum whilst still letting visitors know what is available as well as its significance. The signs both inside and outside the building are designed to intrigue and engage, whilst subtly reminding visitors that they are in a sacred space with a powerful history.
The internal interpretation is provided through three touchscreens, two with audio. Again, this limits the visual intrusion into the Cathedral whilst providing a breadcrumb trail through the building by the careful siting of the screens, so that each is visible from the other, drawing people into the space via a series of diagonal routes.
The touchscreens use a combination of modern and historic images, video and sound to bring the story of the building to life and to connect people with the current life and work of the Cathedral in its unique focus on Reconciliation. The interior can also be encountered through additional self-directed web content which also allows pre- and post-visit exploration and which encourages relationship building and ongoing engagement.
I recommend that you try the touchscreens when you have a moment. I did, and I was very impressed.
THREE NEW CHURCHWARDENS were admitted to office during December. Behind the face masks (L to R) are Martin R Williams, David East and Jane Edwards. (Photo DAVE GOODALL)
The 12 Days of Christmas
I FIRST HEARD this carol sung by the Coventry Cathedral Choir on the chancel steps at one of my first Christmas Eve services in the Cathedral when I was a teenager.
I was shocked! What was this secular nonsense about a partridge in a pear tree doing at a Cathedral service? I just could not get my head round it. And the Cathedral Choir sang it so well that a spontaneous burst of applause followed!
This Christmas when I first heard the Twelve Days of Christmas carol played on the radio I decided to find out more about it. Perhaps I was the only person without any idea of its origin, but in case you are as puzzled by the partridge as I was, I share what I discovered.
It all goes back to the 16th century when Roman Catholics in England were not permitted to practice their faith in public. This carol was a sort of catechism, with a superficial meaning that carried with it a deeper significance – the deeper significance being recognised by members of that church.
What was that deeper meaning?
1. The partridge in a pear tree was Jesus Christ.
2. Two turtle doves were the Old and New Testaments.
3. Three French hens stood for faith, hope and love.
4. The four calling birds were the four gospels - Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
5. The five golden rings recalled the Torah or Law, the first five books of the Old Testament.
6. The six geese a-laying stood for the six days of creation.
7. Seven swans a-swimming represented the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit: Prophesy, Serving, Teaching, Exhortation, Contribution, Leadership, and Mercy.
8. The eight maids a-milking were the eight beatitudes.
9. Nine ladies dancing were the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self Control.
10. The ten lords a-leaping were the ten commandments.
11. The eleven pipers piping stood for the eleven faithful disciples.
12. The twelve drummers drumming symbolized the twelve points of belief in the Apostles' Creed.
As I write this newsletter we are in the middle of the twelve days of Christmas. Now when I hear the carol played or sung I will enjoy it with an understanding of what it all means.