A message from the Chairman of
The Friends of Coventry Cathedral
KING CHARLES STOOD shoulder to shoulder with President Frank-Walter Steinmeier of Germany at the ruins of St Nikolai Church, Hamburg on the final day of his recent visit to Germany. They joined together in the Coventry Litany of Reconciliation spoken in both English and German by the Lutheran Bishop Kirsten Fehrs. There was no extensive news coverage of this event in the UK, but in Germany the Coventry Litany of Reconciliation was at the centre of a major news story. What King Charles did was unprecedented for a British sovereign.
TV commentators on the German rolling news channel NTV called it a “great, great symbol”. Before the ceremony Germany’s biggest-selling daily paper, Bild, said that King Charles’ gesture at the memorial “will say more than any speech”. In The Guardian, the Hamburg-based historian, Helene von Bismarck, said Charles’s stop at the memorial was far more than just another photo op. “At a time when many politicians all over the world like to pick and choose from history with the sole aim of suiting their narratives, it matters,” she said.
Today the church of St Nikolai is preserved as a memorial to those who lost their lives during the heavy air raids carried out by US and British air forces 80 years ago. Codenamed Operation Gomorrah, the raids unleashed 9,000 tonnes of explosives. Some 34,000 people died in the intense bombing and firestorms that followed. The surviving 147-metre-high church tower served as a target marker for the bombers. The church was badly damaged on July 25, 1943. In WWII Hamburg and Dresden were the most heavily bombed cities in Nazi Germany.
The Coventry Litany of Reconciliation is the prayer declared by Provost Williams in 1959 to be prayed each Friday at noon in Coventry Cathedral Ruins. It is also used across the world by members of the Community of the Cross of Nails (CCN) and in Coventry Cathedral services on other occasions.
The roofless ruin of St Nikolai is all that remains of a church that was originally designed by the English architect, George Gilbert Scott. Coincidences abound when you remember that it was the same architect who designed the Albert Memorial in London, a memorial erected in honour of King Charles’s German ancestor, Prince Albert. Incidentally, the Albert Memorial incorporates decorative ironwork by Francis Skidmore, the famous Coventry metal artist, who also designed ironwork furniture for Coventry Cathedral that was lost in the Coventry Blitz.
In Hamburg Bishop Fehrs told the gathering ‘at this special place of remembrance’, where 80 years ago the church was destroyed by bombs, that ‘we stand in solidarity with people throughout the world who strive for reconciliation in the face of violence and war; we are deeply grateful for this moment of unity. Let us set an example for understanding peace with the deeply moving and unifying Coventry Litany of Reconciliation.’
When later questioned by reporters, Bishop Fehr said, “The sign of reconciliation between two war enemies and the joint commemoration of the victims are an important signal today,”
Before the prayer the Hamburg Boys' Choir sang one of my favourite anthems, "If ye love me", by the English composer Thomas Tallis (1505-1585).
FOOTNOTE:You can view film of King Charles in Hamburg on Youtube.
The online link is https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qNtJs4IVYXI
The timing of the Coventry Litany is 43.45 to 47.42.
CORONATION BALLOON RACE. Since 1994 members of Coventry Cathedral congregation have supported work with disabled children in Sibiu, Transylvania, Romania where there is a Coventry cross of Nails. To raise funds and to mark the Coronation, SHARE (the UK charity that backs the project) has organised a virtual balloon race from Coventry to Transylvania starting on 6th May and ending on 20th May. There is just time enough before the race starts for you to name and enter a balloon of your chosen colour. Full details are online at - https://share.charity/balloon-race-2023
ON 25th MAY we celebrate with thanks the anniversary of the Cathedral's consecration. This early photo shows ground work in preparation for laying the Cathedral foundations.
The Friends Prayer
Almighty God, the light and life of the world,
We give thanks for this Cathedral Church of St Michael,
raised up as a house of prayer for all peoples,
and as a temple to your glory.
We pray for all those who minister and worship in the Cathedral day by day,
and especially for our ministry of reconciliation.
Guide and prosper the work and witness of the Friends,
that through their activities and generosity,
the heritage and ministry of the Cathedral may be supported and sustained.
We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord.
FOR MANY YEARS the Cathedral has been interested in acquiring the houses 9 & 10 Priory Row to create a ‘Cathedral Close’. Purchase negotiations with the current owner are now under way and by selling the Canons’ houses and all other property it owns the Cathedral can raise the purchase price – all but £50,000. The Dean has written to everyone on the electoral roll seeking a pledge of their support so that we can secure the long term future of the site for the Cathedral.
If you wish to pledge your support or you would just like a little more information, the Dean will be pleased to hear from you – EMAIL - [email protected]
THE SHOWING OF the film “Lyra” in Coventry Cathedral in March was followed last month by the television broadcast of the film on Channel 4.
Journalist Lyra McKee was shot dead during a riot in Londonderry in April 2019. It was a measure of the impact of her honest writing that thousands turned out for the ecumenical funeral in St. Anne’s Cathedral in Belfast. They included the former British Prime Minister Theresa May, the Irish Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, and the President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins.
Speaking at the service, Fr Martin Magill commended the politicians for going to Derry but said that he was left with a question: “Why, in God’s name, does it take the death of a twenty-nine-year-old woman with her whole life in front of her?” The cathedral congregation stood and applauded.
Nichola Corner, Lyra’s sister, spoke in Coventry Cathedral as part of a panel discussion after the film showing. Last month she was interviewed by Martha Kearney on the BBC Radio 4 TODAY programme when she spoke of what she called her “Coventry Epiphany”. “If you are standing in the new Cathedral looking out you are staring the old bombed medieval Cathedral in the face. I think that is what we need to do here in Northern Ireland. Look at the past without bias, without blaming this one or that one or the other one. We have a joint responsibility to move this community forward, and we can do it because peace is a choice. It can be done, but people will have to have difficult conversations as Lyra always talked about. People will have to begin to have empathy for people who are not of their own clan.”
If you enjoy reading this newsletter and are not yet a member of the Friends of Coventry Cathedral I invite you to join us today.
Members join to support the ministry and buildings of Coventry Cathedral so that it will continue to speak to future generations.
You will find a membership application form on the Friends website.
STYLED BY DESIGN. The Sutherland Tapestry panel discussion scheduled for 20th April was postponed as there was insufficient registered interest to make it viable.
John Rathbone. John was a lifetime member of the Friends of Coventry Cathedral, a Choral Clerk, a Churchwarden and in later years Cathedral Archivist. His children Jonathan, Tim and Rachel invite you to a Choral Evensong in his memory at 4pm on Sunday 21st May. “As you may remember, our father died 3 years ago on 3rd April 2020, just at the start of the Covid 19 pandemic. Because of this, we were unable to give him the proper funeral that he deserved, with a meagre 6 people being allowed to attend a strict 20 minute ceremony. As he was a dedicated member of the Coventry Cathedral community for almost all of his life, many of those years as a member of the Cathedral Choir, we decided the most fitting tribute to be a Memorial Choral Evensong in his honour. Prior to the service, we will be providing light refreshments from 2.30pm in the John Laing Centre, where we look forward to catching up with those able to attend.”
To help with catering numbers would you please let the family know if you are able to attend. The email address is – [email protected].
ON EASTER DAY after the morning service there were Easter egg hunters wandering around the Cathedral in search of small Easter eggs hidden all around the building. This clever squirrel was caught by a quick-witted passer-by on their mobile phone!
I PAUSED AS I entered Coventry Station. All around me I could see traces of Coventry Cathedral.
As part of the £82m refurbishment of Coventry Station and its setting, new artwork in vinyl was commissioned for the main concourse windows. The artist, Christopher Tipping, travelled from his home in Ramsgate to spend time in Coventry absorbing the existing architectural features of our city to reflect in the artwork. The Cathedral architecture clearly impressed him and he has woven much of it into his art.
Planned originally with Coventry’s UK City of Culture Year in mind, the whole project was managed by Avanti West Coast, with funding from the Government’s Local Growth Fund through the Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership (CWLEP), Rail Heritage Trust and Coventry City Council.
Christopher Tipping has written about his approach to the Coventry Station Project. First of all, he created a “Coventry Pattern Book” of designs based upon his impressions and observations of the city. I have reproduced a selection of those designs that draw on the Cathedral. For example, he explained that the inspiration for the patterns that you see above at the start of this article are derived from the architecture of “the 48 concrete piers, which inform & support the structure of the Chapel of Industry, Coventry Cathedral.”
The following designs inspired by the Cathedral are from his Coventry Pattern Book, with the artist’s own comments alongside.
A modern technique was used to create the vinyl pictures that is known as Day & Night printing. Two identical (or sometimes different) images are printed on the vinyl with a white layer in between. The ‘day effect’ is achieved when you look at the print without backlighting, while the so-called transparent ‘night effect’ appears when there is a light source behind the image. This is a clever answer to the problem that a print that looks good when backlit needs to have a heavy ink load so that it is dense to compensate for the strength of the backlighting, but then that same print will look dark and dull when it is lit from the front.
In the photos of Coventry Station (below) you can see some of the Cathedral influences – the Cathedral spire, the Ruins tracery, the baptistry mullions. But better still, allow yourself a little time to pause in the entrance hall next time you travel by train and see what other Cathedral influences you can discover.
Events to come
The Cathedral events team is recruiting volunteer stewards for duty at the following events. If you would like to help at the day and time, please email Asha whose address is [email protected] Saturday 20th May Women, Life, Freedom. A symposium with art, film, music
Help welcoming and wayfinding. 5:30pm welcome, 6pm start, 8pm finish Saturday 3rd June A Night At The Opera. A classical concert.
Help welcoming, selling programmes, wayfinding, on hand for emergency evacuation. 6:30pm brief, 6:45pm doors, 7:30pm start Friday 23rd June Ceilidh In The Ruins (or New Cathedral if soggy)
Help welcoming, checking tickets, wayfinding, have fun and join in the dances! 6:45pm brief, 7pm start, 9pm finish Saturday 15th July A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Theatre in Ruins if dry.
Help welcoming, checking tickets, wayfinding. 5:45pm brief, 6pm doors, 7pm start
THESE PICTURES SHOW an ebony and silver conductor’s baton that was presented to the Coventry Cathedral organist in 1933 when he left Coventry. The pictures were published last month when the baton went to auction.
The recipient musician, Harold W Rhodes, was the second Cathedral organist following the revival of the Diocese of Coventry in 1918, and he held that position from 1928 to 1933. He went on to compose many pieces that are still in the repertoire today. He is one of the most famous of our Cathedral organists. His recitals on the pre-war Cathedral organ were broadcast regularly on BBC Midlands Radio – often two or three times a month.
Rhodes had been something of a child prodigy and entered the Royal College of Music at the age of 14 years. He won scholarships for playing the organ and for composition. His tutor in composition was none other than Sir Charles Stanford, so perhaps we should not be surprised that many of Rhodes’ own works have stood the test of time.
In Coventry as well as playing the Cathedral organ, Rhodes organised and played at many large-scale concerts drawing on choirs from across the city. A major success was on 9th October 1930 when he played at the 10th Annual Festival of the Coventry Church Choirs Association that was held in Coventry Cathedral. On that occasion there were 34 choirs that together numbered 700 singers, conducted by Harold B Osmond. They sang the canticles to Brewer in D, and the anthems “Prevent Us, O Lord” (Byrd) and “Great and Marvellous” (Boyce). Incidentally, Herbert Brewer had himself been the organist at St Michael’s, Coventry before it was raised to Cathedral status. He was as well-known as Rhodes.
On 27th May 1933 in a radio broadcast from the Cathedral, Rhodes conducted a combined Festival of Music that brought together the massed choirs of Birmingham, Coventry and Leicester Cathedrals – 120 voices in all. It was the second annual festival of the three choirs.
Harold Rhodes left Coventry in 1933 to lead the music at Winchester Cathedral, where he remained until his retirement. He often wrote for newspapers and journals, primarily on church music and his compositions included chamber works, keyboard pieces, anthems, hymns, solo songs and part songs. He achieved notable success during his lifetime.
BILL BAILEY FILMED in Coventry Cathedral as part of a new series of arts programmes the first of which will be broadcast later this month. On the left is Bill's tweet about the Piper window.
Dianne Morris, the Cathedral Archivist, guided the programme’s producers around the Cathedral to objects they are including in the series. The programme is called “Bill Bailey’s Master Crafters: The Next Generation.”
Dianne spoke afterwards: “It was a pleasure to meet Bill Bailey, who is the host for these programmes. He said he had enjoyed his visit to the Cathedral and had learned much about the Cathedral’s heritage. One episode features stained glass, and the Cathedral was chosen to showcase 20th Century and medieval stained glass.”
The programmes celebrate traditional crafts across the UK. They show the work of craft professionals as well as junior crafters as they learn and develop their skills. The series explores three traditional heritage crafts: wood carving, stained glass and silversmithing.
The programmes will appear on the Sky Arts channel, which is available to view on Freeview Channel 11.
In the last newsletter I described how much of the Cathedral is held together with glue. I have now come across an advert that suggests that the Great West Screen is held in place with Bostik.
Narwhal remembered. Last month's story of the narwhal horn made into the Bishop's Crozier brought back memories to one Friends member - Rex Satchwell. On the day the Danish ambassador brought the narwhal horn to the Cathedral, Rex was on duty as a Cathedral guide together with fellow guide Mrs Hammond. The ambassador arrived in good time (and too early for the receiving party of clergy!), so the two Cathedral guides brought him up to date with the Cathedral story while they waited.
Lee Child, the famous novelist born in the Styvechale area of Coventry, travelled from his home in New York to receive an honorary doctorate from Coventry University at the recent graduation ceremony held in Coventry Cathedral. His best known creation is the character Jack Reacher, who has featured in more than 25 thriller novels since the author started to publish in 1997, and is a character often portrayed in film.
Ballad of John & Yoko. The story of John Lennon and Yoko Ono's acorn sculpture that they brought to the Cathedral in 1968, and Yoko's return in 2005 to plant two memorial oak trees in St Michael's Avenue was told during BBC Radio 4's Gardeners' Question Time on 21st April 2023 (now available online). The programme producer, Daniel Cocker, interviewed Dianne Morris, Cathedral Archivist. The acorn story is told in the first volume of "Cathedral Reflections" published by the Friends, a small number of copies of which are available on application, price £4 plus postage.
Professor John Wyverof the Westminster School of Arts, University of Westminster, was in Canada last month to give a lecture about his BBC television documentary “Coventry Cathedral: Building For A New Britain”. He spoke at St Michael’s College in the University of Toronto as part of a Christianity and Arts lecture series.
If you would like to see again his BBC documentary about Coventry Cathedral, you can find it on YouTube using the link - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=afXiub4WAkM