A message from the Chairman of
The Friends of Coventry Cathedral
(left) In 1954 as a first step towards the building of the Chapel of Unity the ground was cleared and made ready to receive the building foundations. The aim of the Chapel is to draw Christians of all traditions closer to the foundation of their faith in Jesus Christ.
(right) A Margaret Traherne window in the completed Chapel of Unity that was dedicated in 1962. Her designs provide a feeling of spiritual uplift.
THE DIAMOND JUBILEE of the Chapel of Unity was celebrated in a united service on 25th September 2022. In June 1962 at an earlier united service the Chapel had been dedicated by Dr W A Visser ‘T Hooft, the General Secretary of the World Council of Churches.
The Chapel was designed in the form of an eastern tent, and the Jubilee service seized upon that image to speak to all of the Christian denominations of their journey together towards unity in Christ.
At the climax of the service all of the church leaders present gathered around the central table and declared their commitment to this journey. The congregation members stood and all present committed themselves “to be breakers down of walls of partition.”
(left) One of the lessons was read by Rev Mr Leo Poole, a Roman Catholic priest. It is a measure of ecumenical progress that his participation was possible, as in 1962 it would have contravened the rules of his church.
To accommodate the overflow congregation at the Jubilee Service a live link was screened on the Chapel of Unity steps.
(right) The church leaders present made their commitment to Journeying Together.
AN ESTIMATED TEN thousand people visited the Cathedral in the days following the death of Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth to bring flowers, to light candles, to leave messages of condolence in the books provided or simply to sit, rest or pray.
Each day there was a steady stream of visitors queuing to sign books of condolence and to light candles, even as the services were taking place. At the end of the Sunday morning service after the public announcement, the Cathedral Choir processed to the west end for the singing of “God Save The King”. For many of us those words were being sung for the first time. During the National Anthem a young woman wiped tears from her face. She had wandered into the Cathedral just to sign the book of condolence. I felt a lump in my throat and swallowed hard.
On the eve of the Royal Funeral on the steps of Coventry Council House the formal proclamation was read out to the gathered crowd by the Lord Mayor surrounded by Councillors, Aldermen and community leaders. Members of the Cathedral Choir had changed quickly out of their robes following the Sunday service. They gathered at one end of the platform to lead the singing of the National Anthem at the conclusion of the formalities.
That afternoon representatives of Coventry’s many different communities took part in the Civic Service of Remembrance at the Cathedral. The congregation was headed by the Lord Mayor of Coventry and the Lord Lieutenant of the West Midlands.
For Queen Elizabeth’s Funeral people gathered on the steps of the Cathedral to watch the service live on a huge screen in the University Square. The City Council provided the television link for people who preferred not to watch alone. The doors of the Cathedral remained open until late that evening as happened throughout the week. The people’s Cathedral served its people.
FRIENDS AGM - advance notice The Annual General Meeting of the Friends of Coventry Cathedral will take place in the John Laing Centre, Coventry Cathedral at 1.30 pm on Saturday 5th November 2022 (doors open at 1pm). Full details will be sent to each member shortly.
Stephen Verney The AGM will include a presentation by Rev David Barker about the life of Stephen Verney. Stephen was a Residentiary Canon of Coventry whose book "Fire In Coventry" has been re-published and circulated around the Diocese by Bishop Christopher as an example of the Holy Spirit in action. Within the Cathedral grounds Stephen was responsible for Coventry's biggest ever international sculpture exhibition to accompany the People and Cities Conference.
In recent years the release of embargoed government papers has shed light on Stephen's role in ending the Battle of Crete during World War II. Stephen served in British Military Intelligence and was awarded an MBE for his exploits. He was later consecrated as a bishop. Stephen was a Canon of Coventry Cathedral whose life was as exciting as it was varied.
Here is an opportunity to learn more about him!
Photos of Queen Elizabeth
FOLLOWING THE DEATH of Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth there was a surge in the number of members accessing the online photos that capture each visit to Coventry Cathedral made by Her Late Majesty. The photos are to be found in the Friends Memorabilia section of the Friends of Coventry Cathedral website.
There is also a printed record of those Royal visits that have taken place since the Consecration in the publication CATHEDRAL REFLECTIONS II that is available from the Cathedral retail outlets (price £5).
Access to the Friends website is really simple.
For members who have not yet registered on the website. When you log on to friendsofcoventrycathedral.org.uk
you subscribe by entering your email address. (You are already a member so you do not need to join again.) You can set your own password. This gives you exclusive access to the historical material in the Friends Memorabiliasection.
The wrong date
2022 HAS BEEN a year of Jubilees at the Cathedral as we commemorate the events of 60 years ago. With that in mind I glanced at the mark of consecration traced on the wall by Bishop Cuthbert Bardsley at the Cathedral’s Consecration Service - and I had a surprise.
The photo above right was taken during the 1962 Consecration Service. Behind the candles you see Bishop Bardsley in action with his crozier, tracing the form of a cross on the wall of the Cathedral sanctuary alongside the high altar. There you find the Latin words of the carving that translate as:
CUTHBERT, Bishop of Coventry, consecrated this temple AD 8 Kal Jun, 1962
Hold on a minute!
Why is the month stated to be June and not the 25th of May, which we all know was the date of the Consecration Service?
I searched the internet for an explanation, and I discovered that the carved date was formulated in accordance with the Roman Calendar. An online conversion chart showed me that although the date seemed wrong to me, it is correctly stated according to that Calendar.
I was puzzled by the use of the Roman Calendar. Who uses that Calendar today? As I read on I discovered facts about our Calendar’s history which I take a moment to share.
The first Roman Calendar was based on phases of the moon and was not easy for ordinary citizens to follow. Although it had 12 months like our current calendar, only 10 of the months had formal names, leaving out winter as an unnamed “dead” period of time because little happened. There were originally only names for the time period of March through to December.
The ten months were simply numbered. Eventually the names January and February were added to cover the winter period. The ten-month year is evidenced today in the names of September, October, November, and December – from the Latin for seven, eight, nine and ten.
The reliance on phases of the moon combined with miscellaneous adjustments by different rulers of Rome caused the early Roman Calendar to become increasingly inaccurate as years went by, so in 43 BC Julius Caesar created a Revised Roman Calendar (the Julian Calendar) based upon the rotation of the earth around the sun, rather than using the moon. After his death the 7th month (July) was named in his honour, and some years later the following month was named August in honour of Emperor Augustus.
But even Julius Caesar’s new Roman Calendar did not run entirely smoothly. It was slightly shorter than the solar year, so in order to accommodate this discrepancy he added an extra day later in his year (just as today we extend February in Leap Years). This became problematic for the Church because its inaccuracy meant that with the passage of time the Julian Calendar slowly brought forward the date of Easter in the year. The date of Easter was calculated according to the date of the vernal equinox, and action was needed as the calculated date drew closer to Christmas.
Today the Gregorian Calendar is used throughout the world. The calendar is so named because it was decreed on 24th February 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII to correct the errors in the older Julian Calendar. His calendar adds an additional day to February in Leap Years – but (again, to my surprise) I learned that we do not add an extra February day in absolutely every fourth year.
This is because the Earth rotates about 365.242375 times a year. A normal year is 365 days, so we have to "catch up" an extra 0.242375 days a year. An extra day every four years is not precise enough to do this.
So, in our Gregorian Calendar a year that is evenly divisible by 100 (for example, 1900) is a leap year only if it is also divisible by 400. So, for example, the following years are not leap years:
1700, 1800, 1900, 2100, 2200, 2300, 2500, 2600
No one ever told me about this rule. That is not surprising because I will not experience any of these exceptional years in my lifetime – and neither will you.
Back to the carved Cathedral inscription where I started. I had discovered that the date was written correctly according to the Roman Calendar. I discovered the history of the Calendar. But I could not find any reason for using the Roman Calendar in the carving on the Cathedral wall when for every other purpose it is the Gregorian Calendar that is used in the Cathedral every day.
Perhaps there is a reader who can help me out with the answer?
If you ever buy items through Amazon online and are not already familiar with how to help the Friends at the same time at no cost to yourself, I will explain. AmazonSmile was set up by Amazon to help charities. It offers the same products, prices and shopping features as Amazon.com. The difference is that when you shop on AmazonSmile the Amazon Smile Foundation donates 0.5% of the price to your chosen charity.
If you are not already registered I invite you to visit smile.amazon.co.uk and select Friends of Coventry Cathedral as your charity. Then each time you but something you support the Friends at no additional cost to yourself.
What a great deal!
LAST WEEK I attended a Cathedral committee meeting in St Michael’s House, 11 Priory Row – the house next door to the Cathedral with that lovely Georgian front. As I walked towards the entrance door it struck me how we tend to take that notable building for granted. It is a significant building with a fascinating history.
After World War II number 11 Priory Row came under threat from Coventry's city planners as they planned the city’s future layout. At that stage Sir Albert Richardson spoke out to defend its Georgian façade “only equalled in England by Kensington Palace”. Richardson was a leading English architect, teacher and writer about architecture during the first half of the 20th century. He was Professor of Architecture at University College London, a President of the Royal Academy, editor of Architects' Journal, founder of the Georgian Group and the Guild of Surveyors and Master of the Art Workers' Guild. In other words, he was someone who knew what he was talking about!
11 Priory Row was left a mere shell by incendiary bombs early in the war. Before the war it had been one of Coventry’s architectural gems. Mary Dormer Harris, the most famous local historical researcher of that period, called it “a testimony to the skill and taste of some early 18th century builder.”
We know a great deal about the history of 11 Priory Row. The house dates back to the reign of George II and was built by a Coventry wine merchant. His extensive wine cellars survive. Even though many people believe them to be haunted, they are still in use - no longer for wine but for general storage.
Older history books record a local legend that links 11 Priory Row with two other Georgian houses in Coventry city centre. The other houses are Kirby House in Little Park Street and number 7 Little Park Street, and all three houses still stand today with only minor exterior adjustments. The story tells how three brothers competed with each other to use their own architects and to build the most beautiful house in the city, with the winner being paid for by the other two. The identity of the three brothers is not known precisely, though it has been suggested that they were silkmen from the Bird family, an old Coventry family of some substance and influence.
Coming as I do from a legal background, I feel that doubt is cast on this local legend by the wording of an old conveyance dated 21st September 1741 that described number 11 Priory Row as “a new erected mansion house built at the expense of David Wells together with the outhouses etc….near to a certain place called St Michael’s Churchyard”. By that document St Michael’s House was conveyed by Mr Wells to John Hollyer for the sum of £1,725.
It is also recorded that some twenty years earlier when Wells bought the property it had been described as “all that messuage or tenement of a capital wine vault and premises in Priory Row, with the appurtenances and one garden, and one orchard, situate within the site of the late dissolved Priory in the City of Coventry”. Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries was still being referred to in legal papers some 200 years after the event!
In the 19th century 11 Priory Row became the residence of a famous Coventry citizen, Dr Nathaniel Troughton, who was a local surgeon and a trustee of many church charities. He produced 11 portfolios of pencil drawings of 19th century Coventry streets, buildings, and interiors. In April 1876 the drawings were presented to the City by Troughton's widow, and you can view some of them today online on the Herbert Museum website.
Troughton died in 1868 and left his half of the property to his daughter, Fanny. As a result of his mortgage arrangement he was only a part-owner, so Fanny bought out the other owner. She kept the property until around 1890 when she sold it to the local Volunteer Corps (a forerunner of the Territorial Army) for use as a club.
In 1894 the Coventry Benevolent Burial Society took over the building. It was re-named the Priory Assembly Rooms and became a hub for local social activities. I read in a directory for the years 1912 / 1913 that 11 Priory Row was at that time the base used by all the following:
Amalgamated Society of Tool Makers (No. 1 Branch). Every Saturday.
Young Liberals League
Coventry Benevolent Burial Society
Perfect Thrift Building Society Offices
Christadelphian Meeting House
Shorthand Writers Association
Manchester Unity of Odd Fellows Lodge 2 (Earl of Craven) Every other Monday.
The Coventry Benevolent Burial Society moved out in 1936 and the house was sold at auction. Just before the start of World War II number 11 Priory Row became the headquarters of Coventry Women’s Voluntary Services. As I mentioned earlier, incendiaries caused extensive damage and rendered the building unfit for use early on in the war.
Post-war building restrictions delayed the restoration of the building as priority was given to housing. In 1952 (by which time the owners were the trustees of the estate of Mr W Coker Iliffe) the approvals of Coventry Corporation and of the Royal Fine Art Commission enabled a building restoration licence to be granted. One of the building’s interior glories had been its staircase of which an exact copy was known to exist elsewhere. It was faithfully reproduced, as can still be seen today. The restoration architects were Donald Macpherson (Bloomsbury Square, London) and a Coventry architect who is still remembered by many members, Mr Alfred H. Gardner. The building became offices.
My first contact with 11 Priory Row was one Saturday morning as a child in the 1950s when my parents asked me to deliver their mortgage payment to the office of the Coventry Provident Mutual Building Society housed there.
Shell-Mex BP occupied the building for some years before the Cathedral acquired it in the mid-1960s. Its use as offices continued for a while with the Cathedral as the commercial landlord. In 1972 the much-photographed façade was featured in the Birmingham-produced television soap opera “Crossroads” which transformed it into the entrance of the hospital where Sandy was being treated. I hope that the Cathedral received a suitable facility fee!
Once transferred into the Cathedral’s ownership the building became known as Gorton House, a tribute to the Rt Rev Neville Gorton (1888-1955) who was Bishop of Coventry from 1943 to 1955. That changed in 1974 when the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Donald Coggan, opened the newly re-furbished Gorton House as the Coventry Cathedral Centre of Studies. The facilities included a library, a reading room and two seminar rooms. The Cathedral offered three-month training courses in reconciliation, and similar courses of different lengths in conjunction with the Lanchester Polytechic (now Coventry University). An eight-week summer school was arranged as well as provision for individual students. The local newspaper reported advance bookings from Eckert University in Florida and Sewanee Theological College in Tennessee.
The next big step in the building’s history saw it become the Provost’s House/Deanery. The Cathedral Chapter had felt for some time that the close location and prestigious appearance of the building made it an obvious candidate to be a Deanery, and the opportunity for the change arose in 1988 with the appointment of the Very Rev John Petty as Provost. The upgrading of the listed building took a year to negotiate with the local conservation planners who were also persuaded to agree the addition of a roof garden to provide the residents with outside access in the absence of a regular garden. Mind you, only discreet sunbathing is possible when there are paying spectators looking down from St Michael’s spire!
In 2011, the building was refurbished again and renamed St Michael’s House to become the focus of the Cathedral’s ministry of reconciliation. It housed the office of our Canon for Reconciliation as well as providing space initially for staff appointed by the current Archbishop of Canterbury to assist his reconciliation work around the Anglican Communion for which he found the story of Coventry Cathedral to be a useful tool. With the departure of Canon Sarah Hills, the Canon for Reconciliation, the building changed to its current use as offices and meeting spaces in support of the Cathedral’s ministry.
In my dash through the history of 11 Priory Row I must not overlook the iron railings that surround the front courtyard. That ironwork survived the war as you can see from the picture above, and it is a link (slightly tenuous) with Francis Skidmore, the internationally known Coventry artist in metal - famous for the ironwork of the Albert Memorial in London as well as for the Hereford Cathedral screen that is now restored, preserved and prominently displayed in the V & A Museum.
The grapes and vines of the railings of 11 Priory Row are a link with the trade of its original builder. They were made by George Pridmore, an apprentice of Francis Skidmore, who in 1890 set up his own workshops in Much Park Street and in the following forty years became almost as well-known as his former master.
So, do have a good look next time you pass by St Michael's House, and judge for yourself how it compares with Kensington Palace.
To take advantage of FRIENDS SPECIAL PRICES for Coventry Cathedral Chorus concerts please order them from Jill Pacey who is the singer responsible for direct ticket sales.
Her email address is [email protected]
A lasting gift
THE VALUE OF work done by the Friends of Coventry Cathedral in support of our Cathedral was recognised this week with the arrival of a legacy of £10,000 from the estate of the late Lois Gwendoline Howes. She was a member determined to help the buildings of the Cathedral to be available for future generations and for the Cathedral's ministry to touch the lives of many more people in the future just as it had touched her own life.
Would you leave a legacy or bequest to the Friends of Coventry Cathedral to sustain the work?
Bequests to churches and charities are exempt from inheritance tax. The Friends Council hopes that you will consider the Friends of Coventry Cathedral when making or revising your will.
Your solicitor or professional adviser will ensure that your wishes are followed, and they can advise on the effects of gifts of legacies or shares or property.
Together we are working to support the historic fabric and ministry of Coventry Cathedral and to ensure that it continues to be available to future generations.
You may like to use the following form of words –
I give the sum of £………. to … OR I devise and bequeath all of my estate absolutely to … OR I devise and bequeath a ………% share of the residue of my estate to … The Friends of Coventry Cathedral (reg. charity no. 1061176), 1 Hill Top, Coventry CV1 5AB for its general purposes. The receipt of the Treasurer or other Officer of the Friends of Coventry Cathedral will discharge my executors.
Anyone making or amending a will is advised to seek appropriate professional advice.