A message from the Chairman of
The Friends of Coventry Cathedral
Chairman's E-News
                                 October 2021

Bridging The Miles 
“Unassailably Christian”   THESE WORDS WERE used by Provost Williams to describe the sending out in 1965 of a team of young people from the Sunday morning service in Coventry Cathedral to help rebuild the war damaged Church Hospital in Dresden.   It was a strange and unique link with East Germany forged during the height of the Cold War, quite contrary to that country’s previous policy of isolation.
    In November we will have the opportunity to share some of the unique experiences of the volunteers.   Members of the Friends are able to see rare archive film footage of the volunteers’ work behind the Iron Curtain and to meet some of the volunteers themselves.   
    The blanket bombing of Dresden on Shrove Tuesday 1945 is well documented today, but for almost 20 years after World War II the secret Parliamentary sessions that debated it remained unreported.   From the time of his appointment in 1958 Provost Williams had responded to invitations to speak to audiences across the world about the Cathedral’s ministry of reconciliation.   It was during Q & A following a talk in Berlin that a young German asked him, “What about Dresden?”
    On his return home Provost Williams searched out the story of 1945.   He and his ministry team spoke about Reconciliation wherever they went, but now he saw the opportunity to do something about it.   It took some months for him to obtain an East German visa, but with the help of the youth wing of the German Lutheran Church that had set up Aktion Suhnezeichen his visa was issued and he was able to walk through the bombed streets of Dresden.   He knocked on the door of the Deaconesses’ Hospital that was still mostly in ruins, and offered to help the rebuilding.
“The project highlighted by this great and significant event today is the most unassailably Christian enterprise we have ever undertaken in this Cathedral.”      (Provost Williams)
During the Sunday morning communion service on the 14th March 1965 each of the 29 volunteers affirmed belief in their calling to a ministry of reconciliation in Dresden and were commissioned by the Provost.  
    That day had been preceded by a national appeal for funds.   Rabbi Lionel Blue led a Sunday morning BBC Radio appeal for funds.   There was an exhibition of paintings by Bishop Cuthbert Bardsley.   Fundraising concerts were performed by Yehudi Menuhin and the London Bach Group.   The project appealed particularly to young people looking towards a better future, and student groups from all over the UK sent contributions.   Donations were sent by many people who had known Dresden as a place of beauty and music before the war.

The Coventry Cathedral Dresden Project is a true example of reconciliation in practice.
Members of the Friends are invited to share in the experience of the volunteers at Coventry/Dresden- Bridging The Miles – in Holy Trinity Church Centre at the Old Blue Coat School, Priory Row, Coventry at 7 pm on Monday 15th November 2021.   Numbers are limited.  
Details of how to obtain your free ticket will appear in the Friends November newsletter.  
I look forward to sharing this rare and exciting opportunity to delve into the Cathedral archives with you. 



The date planned for the 2021 Friends AGM had to be postponed as a result of delays in production of the Friends Annual Reports.   The Friends constitution requires that 21 days’ notice of the AGM be given to members.   The Reports to be presented at the AGM only became available in the last few days.   Now that they are available, in the next week a new AGM date will be set and formal notice of the AGM will be sent to each member.
Although we are now slowly emerging from the most severe Covid-19 restrictions, when planning the AGM the Friends Council took into account the greater vulnerability of many of our members.   Preferring to err on the side of caution, the Friends Council decided that this year the AGM 2021 will be held on ZOOM.  
For that reason the meeting will also be reduced in scope and will deal only with those items required by the constitution – most importantly the election of officers.   Please let me know if you would like to stand for any office at the AGM.
I am disappointed that we will not be able to meet socially on this occasion.   The exchange of views and ideas between members is always interesting and useful in planning for the future.   
But there is some light on the horizon.   I am looking forward to our first post-virus live meeting on the 15th November 2021.   The success of the Coventry/Dresden evening will tell the Friends Council whether members are ready for us to organise a future programme of activities.

          CHAIR                                           Martin R Williams 
DEPUTY CHAIR                            …vacancy…
              SECRETARY                                 Revd William Howard
    TREASURER                                 Deryck Horton
   Hamish Blair                                  Jane Williams
Jane Edwards                                 Phil Morris
          Richard Chamberlaine-Brothers       Mandy Wooltorton
                       Stuart Fielding (co-opted

BLUE RIBBONS COVERED places of worship all over Coventry last month during the FAITH weekend organised by the RSC (Royal Shakespeare Company) as part of City of Culture year.
The blue ribbons made of recycled plastic united Coventry’s faith communities and were an art installation designed by Tom Piper.   You may recall his poppy memorial at the Tower of London – Blood Swept Lands And Seas Of Red.
During the FAITH weekend there were theatre, music, art installations, food stalls and promenade performances.   The photo shows Coventry Cathedral Choir singing beneath the Cathedral porch surrounded by blue ribbons.

On Mondays in October at 12.30pm there is a free 30 minute recital on the magnificent Harrison & Harrison organ of Coventry Cathedral. 

Monday 4th October 2021
Alastair Stone (Pembroke College, Oxford)

Monday 11th October 2021
William Fairbairn 

Monday 18th October 2021
Alex Norman (Holy Trinity, Coventry)

Original manuscript discovered

PRESERVED IN THE Cathedral Archives is an original manuscript composition that was discovered following the FRIENDS newsletter appeal to members for old Cathedral related items.
    It is the original manuscript of music commissioned to celebrate the 1987 Cathedral Silver Jubilee.   The Liberation Mass was composed by Tony Hinnigan, who is a leading member of the group Incantation well known for performing music from Latin America on pan pipes, native drums and flutes.   If you saw the film “The Mission” you heard Incantation playing their film score.
    The initiative behind the Liberation Mass was taken by Rev Dr Paula Whitmore, an American priest who was based at Coventry Cathedral for three years and who first heard Incantation play in concert.   After the concert she approached the group to seek their help and they responded willingly. 
    In our Silver Jubilee year Incantation played a Friday concert in the Cathedral followed by the Liberation Mass the following Sunday.   At the Cathedral concert who will ever forget the sight of Bishop Simon dancing in the aisle with members of the audience?   That night the whole Cathedral swayed to the sound of rhythmic drum beats and melodic pan pipes!
    The Liberation Mass was premiered at the Sunday morning communion service by Coventry Cathedral Choir accompanied by Incantation.   The Cathedral Archives holds printed copies of the score, but until recently no one was aware of the existence of the original score.
    Martin Wright, a member of the Friends, was tidying his old papers when he discovered the score amongst a pile of material originally passed on to him by a departing colleague.
The Liberation Mass so excited Jane Rotch, an American lady sitting in the congregation, that when she returned home she wrote a description of the service that was then published in the USA. 

A Eucharist offered for the people of South America and in support of Christian Aid.…        At the back a breathy wind instrument plays a prelude.   The men and boys of the choir mass on risers at the right of the centre aisle.   To the left are the Incantation musicians, six men and a woman, with a variety of unusual instruments…. The choir begins the Kyrie, in chorale style.   Then, softly the folk artists sing in Spanish above the Kyrie, “Senor, ten piedad”, and a bamboo flute, a panpipe, plays an obligato above the words.   A guitar joins in.   “Christo ten Piedad de nosotros.”   “Christe eleison.”   The old and the new mingle harmoniously, movingly.
… a young laywoman mounts the high Great Lectern and reads the lesson from Isaiah 65.   An instrumental gradual follows, with an infectious rhythm set by a shaken instrument, containing beads or seeds.   The musician moves his mouth along the bamboo flute, holding the flute still with two hands.   The beat quickens, two wooden flutes join in; the melody dies away.
(the sermon) in South America the church has rediscovered its mission, and become the church of the poor.   Jesus is already there with the poor, where he said he would be present…

…The choir sings a gentle threefold Sanctus.   Strumming guitars and drums accompany, then the Incantation singers lead, singing in Spanish.   The choir responds.   There is a panpipe solo; a drummer conducts with his head.   The congregation kneels.   “Our Father” is sung with gentle strumming, wooden block flutes, drums, an Andean flute – the effect is strange, yet familiar all at once.
A loaf of bread is broken at the altar.   The Choir begins Agnus Dei; a guitar plays a melody; the woman musician sings a prayer; a quartet of silver flutes play.   One silver flute shaped like a shepherd’s crook stands as tall as a man.   The sound of the flutes is low, breathy, imploring.   “Miserere Nobis” sings the Choir above, and the flutes respond.   A voice sings “Da nos paz”.   The Choir comes in quietly to end.   The flutes have the last word.
There is spontaneous applause as Incantation stops playing.   At the back the congregation mills about informally, chatting and drinking coffee….Through the glass window wall, the other side of the ghostly saints and angels, a boy in leather jacket and long hair glides by on roller skates with a girl.   Other Sunday strollers walk past without glancing inside.”      

It was a moving and appropriate way to mark the Cathedral’s Silver Jubilee in Christian Aid Week 1987.  Without the musicianship of Incantation the Liberation Mass sung that day is unlikely ever to be repeated.   (Tony Hinnigan, the composer, is pictured on the right.)
Now through a member of the Friends the Cathedral Archives holds a permanent reminder of that event in the original music manuscript.

FOOTNOTE.   I would love to contact Paula Whitmore, so do let me know if you are in touch with her.   


The Friends membership application form is available online –

Architectural excellence

ON 14th OCTOBER the winners of two prestigious architecture prizes awarded by the RIBA will be announced in Coventry Cathedral as part of the City of Culture year.

There are six small-scale projects competing for the Stephen Lawrence Prize 2021.   Entrants must have construction budgets below £1m.   They include a south London chapel-to-house conversion, a boat-to-church conversion in Hackney Wick, a Norfolk family home converted from a water tower, a learning centre built from a greenhouse in Kent and Maggie’s Centre, which is a cancer care centre clad in corrugated sheeting.   The winning architect receives a £5,000 bursary.

A further six new-build projects are competing for the prestigious 2021 Stirling Prize.   They are the Cambridge Central mosque, Kingston University student hub, Eddington Housing for Cambridge university staff, the Lake Windermere museum, the coastal bridge to a Cornish medieval castle and Clerkenwell House in Islington.

Turner Prize

TATE BRITAIN UNVEILED a shortlist of artist collectives competing for this year’s Turner Prize for contemporary art.   The winner will be announced on 1 December 2021 at an award ceremony at Coventry Cathedral that will be broadcast on the BBC.
     There is currently an exhibition of the entrants’ works on display at The Herbert (free admission).   Each of the collectives reflects social change in its works, and the community response to the Covid-19 crisis. 

COVENTRY CATHEDRAL CHOIR does much more than simply sing for services in the Cathedral as this month’s Choir photos show.
    On Boxing Day 1994 the Choir entertained spectators at the Coventry City match at Highfield Road with a programme of Christmas carols both on the pitch and in guest dining areas behind the scenes.   The scoreless match with Nottingham Forest, however, was not as exciting as the mid-carol collapse of a microphone on top of the singers!   (Photos above)
    The lower photo shows the Cathedral Choir standing by the tomb of St Mark in Venice.   This followed their first choral service on the 1991 Choir tour of Italy.   Paul Leddington Wright stands at the back left hand side, and Canon Paul Oestreicher at the back right hand side.   A few days later the Choir sang at an audience with Pope John Paul II.
    Tales of these occasions and of many more will be exchanged at the Grand Reunion of former choristers in May 2022.   The Friends are helping the organisers to compile a complete contact list of former Cathedral choristers, so if you know an ex-chorister, please mention the Grand Reunion to him or her.   
   Former Cathedral choristers are asked to get in touch with Mike Smith, who was himself a Cathedral chorister for the Consecration.   Mike needs ex-chorister contact details so that he can circulate all ex-choristers with 2022 Reunion details once the plans are complete.
Mike Smith’s contact email address is - [email protected]

Choirboy jokes

Q: What happens when you play Beethoven backwards?
A: He decomposes.
Q: What do you get when you drop a piano on an army base?
A: A Flat Major
Q: Why did the pianist keep banging his head against the keys?
A: He was playing by ear
Q: Why are pirates great singers?
A: They can hit the high C’s!

MY THANKS TO Mark Lovick who took these pictures while wandering through IKEA.   The Swedish coffee table book used in the shop display features a picture and text about Coventry Cathedral.   Sadly, I cannot read Swedish to tell you what it says.

  LAST MONTH I spotted these two interesting Cathedral-related items offered for sale by Ebay online.   In the picture on the right is a funeral bier that is said to have been used in St Michael’s Church.  It was on offer for £300.  
  The seller writes: “I bought this last year with the intentions of restoring it and putting it back into service , but unfortunately I’ve just not had time at the moment and now I’m losing my storage .The people I brought it from told me it was originally used in Coventry Cathedral.   They had it in their house as a decorative table and got a toughened piece of glass for the top (which is included in the sale).   It needs the wheels sorting out if you’re going to use it, but the wheels didn’t bother them as it added to the character of it.”
      The second item was the book on the left which is one of 500 copies of “Phoenix At Coventry” that were signed by Basil Spence, the author.   What surprised me was the asking price of £550 plus postage!   
If you would like your own copy of the Cathedral architect’s limited edition book I think I can still source a copy for £60.   It makes a fine Christmas present for any one interested in the Cathedral.   Just get in touch with me and I will do my best.

   SENSING THE ANTHROPOCENE is the title of a major new Coventry Biennial exhibition of sound and moving image artworks on display in the Cathedral from 8th October to 23rd January 2022.  
      The exhibition is an immersive sound installation that explores the ways that field recording and sonic research can help attune us to the shifting state of our planet.   It explores the idea that we have moved into a new geological epoch – one that is marked by the impact of human activities on the Earth.
    This exhibition is part of the UK City of Culture 2021 and is supported by Arts Council England, Coventry City Council, the Art Fund and the University of Warwick.


   Martin R Williams

  [email protected]
  63 Daventry Rd, Coventry CV3 5DH



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The Friends of Coventry Cathedral was founded in 1934. It is an independent Charity No. 1061176 registered in England and Wales, with an annually elected Council.
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