A message from the Chairman of
The Friends of Coventry Cathedral
ON SEPTEMBER 29th each year we celebrate the Patronal Festival of our Cathedral Church dedicated to St Michael - Michaelmas. This year in order to mark the occasion the Sunday two days later (1st October) has been designated Cathedral Chapter Sunday, when the Cathedral's administrative body will be the focus of our prayers.
Today the celebration of Michaelmas is something that you rarely come across outside the church. Back in the time of Charles Dickens, Michaelmas was widely celebrated by the cooking of a Michaelmas Goose. I have not been able to discover exactly how this tradition started. For all I know it may still be followed in some families or in some parts of the country. It is certainly an old custom that you can read about in Victorian cookery books.
Michaelmas was an important date for me when I worked in a legal office. Michaelmas Day is one of the legal Quarter Days. There are four “quarter days” each year - Lady Day (25th March), Midsummer (24th June), Michaelmas (29th September) and Christmas (25th December). They are three months apart and near to solstices or equinoxes, as well as marking religious festivals.
The legal importance of Quarter Days arose because on these four dates servants were hired, rents fell due, or leases were begun. Until King Henry VIII broke with Rome, harvesting was also supposed to be finished by Michaelmas, so that date marked the end of one natural cycle and the beginning of another. This is the reason that Michaelmas used to mark the start of legal terms and university terms. Today the name Michaelmas Term remains, but the dates are adjusted for administrative convenience.
The Michaelmas Goose was sometimes called the Stubble Goose. That name arose because as harvesting proceeded the geese were let into the stubble fields where the ate their fill and were in prime condition for the table. Why choose a goose for Michaelmas? The traditional story is that Queen Elizabeth I heard of the defeat of the Armada in the middle of a meal when she was dining on goose. In joyful celebration she resolved henceforth to eat goose on Michaelmas Day – and everyone followed suit! (A bit far-fetched?)
A different and more down to earth explanation has been suggested. Michaelmas was the day when rent was due, so it is said that the tenants who were seeking extra time for payment would soften up the landlord with the gift of a goose in its prime. Back in the 15th century some anonymous poet wrote a verse reminder of the gifts appropriate for the Quarter Days. At Christmas a capon,
At Michaelmas a goose,
And something else at New Year’s Tide,
For fear the lease flies loose!
I cannot recall just how long ago it is since I last ate goose, but I came across a saying that might make us all think again about our Michaelmas dinner menu. Who eateth goose on Michael’s Day,
Shan’t money lack his debts to pay.
ST MICHAEL WRESTLESwith the Devil in Graham Sutherland’s design for the Cathedral’s tapestry. They form a minor cameo alongside the figure of Christ in Glory.
It has been suggested that Graham Sutherland probably drew his inspiration for these wrestling figures from the pioneering photographic work of Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904). In the late 19th century Muybridge was inspired by early British photographers to invent special techniques that made motion sequences visible through the use of multiple snapshots.
Born in Kingston upon Thames, Muybridge emigrated to the USA as a young man and it was there that his most groundbreaking work was achieved. His motion photo sequences revealed secrets that had previously been hidden from the human eye.
In 1883 the University of Pennsylvania supported his motion studies in the course of which he took some 100,000 action photos of subjects that included galloping horses, men wrestling, elephants walking and a nude ballet dancer. His work was widely published and his books Animals In Motion (1899) and The Human Figure In Motion (1901) created a visual compendium of human movements that is said to have inspired artists such as Edgar Degas, Marcel Duchamp and Francis Bacon.
With that in mind, I reproduce some of Muybridge’s pictures of wrestlers for you to compare with Graham Sutherland’s tapestry design.
If you are enjoying this newsletter and are not yet a member of the Friends of Coventry Cathedral I invite you to join us today.
In the Friends we join together to support the ministry and buildings of Coventry Cathedral and help it continue speaking out to future generations.
Joining is easy by using the membership application form on the Friends of Coventry Cathedral website with easy online payment facilities.
You are very welcome.
THE 87th ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING on Saturday 30th September 2023 at 12.30pm in the John Laing Centre, Coventry Cathedral
TIMETABLE for the DAY
12.30pm We gather to greet each other. 1.00pm AGM business meeting. 2.00pm Refreshment Break. Drinks and light refreshments
A presentation by the Rev Canon Adrian Daffern followed by time for questions. Canon Daffern was Precentor of Coventry from 2003 to 2010 (photo right). He is currently Cathedrals and Major Churches Officer at Church House. As Chaplain Extraordinary to the Archbishop of Canterbury he helped to devise the Coronation of King Charles III.
BISHOP JOHN STROYAN on 6th August 2023 was the celebrant at the Cathedral’s Sunday morning service for the last time before his retirement as the Suffragan Bishop of Warwick.
In my years of involvement with the Cathedral there has never been a Bishop more strongly associated with Coventry Diocese than Bishop Stroyan. After training for the ministry it was in Coventry Cathedral that he was ordained Deacon (1983) and a year later ordained Priest (1984). Following ordination his first parish curacy was close by at St Peter’s, Hillfields, not far from the city centre. From 1987 onwards his ministry was served at parishes outside Coventry Diocese, until he was consecrated as Bishop in 2005 and returned to Coventry.
The ordinands faced Bishop John Gibbs in the Cathedral Lecture Hall to make their oaths of allegiance and to complete the legal business that precedes every Ordination Service. In the PHOTO LEFT Candidate Stroyan is on the right. Marion Fry is acting as Bishop’s Chaplain. The PHOTO RIGHT shows the withdrawal from the Cathedral with (L to R) Bishop John Gibbs, Norman Williams (Bishop’s Chaplain, my father) and the newly-ordained Rev Stroyan. In the background is Peter Bridges (Archdeacon of Warwick).
There was a strong Coventry contingent at Bishop Stroyan’s Service of Consecration in Southwark Cathedral. At the climax of the service Bishop Colin Bennetts stood at his side with fellow bishops on the chancel steps to applaud. (PHOTO RIGHT) The welcoming Coventry procession was led by head verger Janice Clarke. In the photo on the left are (L to R) Michael Paget-Wilkes (Archdeacon of Warwick), Adrian Daffern (Precentor), John Irvine (Dean), Mark Bryant (Archdeacon of Coventry), Stuart Beake (Sub-Dean) and Margaret Sedgwick (Lay Reader).
The Cathedral was filled to capacity for the Service of Installation and Welcome on May Day 2005. Bishop Stroyan knelt to receive the blessing of the Bishop of Coventry, Colin Bennetts. Tony Darby acted as Bishop’s Chaplain, and the oaths were administered and recorded by the Cathedral’s legal representative, John Coles.
COVENTRY CATHEDRAL HAS been awarded a Tripadvisor “Traveler’s Choice Award 2023”.
The award places the Cathedral in the top 10% of visitor attractions worldwide.
IN THE 1970s a replica of the 16th century Coventry Cross was built at the top of St Michael’s Avenue at the instigation of a group of heritage-minded Coventry businessmen. It stood there in the shadow of St Michael’s spire until January 2019 when it was demolished by Coventry City Council to make way for more outdoor eating and drinking areas.
I must admit that I took a large pinch of salt when I heard the Council promises of a new Coventry Cross to be constructed in due course on a new site. I am pleased to have been proved wrong, however, and last month the re-built Coventry Cross was unveiled on its new site between Holy Trinity Church and Broadgate.
The pictures show (1) a 19th century print of the original Cross, (2) a picture of the 1970s Cross before demolition and (3) a picture of the latest and improved Cross. Photos 2 and 3 show the relationship to the Cathedral spire.
The 16th century design of today’s Cross followed receipt of the legacy of £200 from the estate of Sir William Hollyes, who died in 1541. Born in Stoke, Coventry, he had gone on to become a Mayor of London. By the date of his death the ancient medieval Coventry Cross had weathered away, and a Cross replacement fund had been launched.
Detailed descriptions of the Hollyes design still exist. Over the years it became a tremendous source of pride to the citizens of Coventry. The Cross did well to survive some 200 years before it too fell victim to the weather. The decayed pieces were finally removed in the 1770s.
An innovation of the new Coventry Cross is the installation of actual windows at ground level. Looking through them you catch sight of a statue of King Henry VI within the cross. It is a 3D print replica of the statue currently held in The Herbert that is believed to have featured on the 16th century Coventry Cross. Why King Henry VI? In Coventry there was a particularly strong Cult of Veneration of King Henry VI following his death in 1471, with many calls for his beatification. Henry features in the St Mary’s Hall tapestry that was created some 30 years later. That tapestry is well worth a visit as it is the oldest tapestry in the UK still hanging in the place for which it was created.
SINCE WRITING LAST month about Coventry’s famous poet, Philip Larkin, members of the Friends have sent in additional Larkin information.
The poet was born at 2 Poultney Road in Radford, Coventry on 9 August 1922 and in 2022 a blue plaque was installed there to mark the spot. The Philip Larkin Society has produced commemorative T-shirts and tote bags for sale to Larkin enthusiasts. The photos show the blue plaque and the sale items. There are clearly more Larkin fans than I first thought.
New Cathedral Constitution registration
On the 8th August 2023 the CHARITY COMMISSION declared that it is satisfied that THE CATHEDRAL CHURCH OF ST MICHAEL COVENTRY is a charity and it has been entered onto the Register of Charities with the Registered Charity Number 1204257. The charity's details are publicly available on the Register of Charities.
BBC MIDLANDS TODAY recently featured two projects closely linked to the Cathedral.
Tony Cleary (on the right) spoke about the redundant NHS ambulances purchased by volunteers and sent out to assist Ukraine in its conflict. Members of the Cathedral congregation saw for themselves two of the ambulances that were parked in the Cathedral porch during one Sunday morning service.
Jane Williams (on the left) was interviewed by Amy Cole on the eve of her return flight to Sibiu, Transylvania taking volunteers to work at the Speranta Centre for Disabled Children. This work has been supported by members of the Cathedral congregation since 1994.
Email contact details if you would like further information are:
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 Tim Stone (Events Assistant) on [email protected]
Heritage Open Days. 8 - 10th September. Stewarding for an hour on Friday, Sat or Sun. Harvest Festival Fair. 16th September. Stewarding for an hour between 11.30am-5.00pm ConcertTribute to John Williams & Hans Zimmer. 23rd September. Stewarding 5pm to 9.15pm. Ceilidh. 6th October. Stewarding 6.30pm to 10pm. Candlelight Concert. 13th October. Tickets/stewarding 7pm to 8.30pm. Concert by Lloyd Cole. 28th October. Tickets/stewarding 6.30pm to 10pm
ONE OF THE souvenirs produced in 1962 to mark the consecration of Coventry Cathedral was a DIY cardboard model of the new Cathedral.
I was reminded of that model by this Arthur Cooper photograph that was amongst the archive pictures rescued from a skip about which I wrote in the past. On the right of the picture is the Rev Clifford E Ross of Claverdon. He was the Bishop’s Chaplain with oversight of the whole range of events that were part of the 1962 Cathedral Festival that followed the Service of Consecration. The DIY model is being demonstrated to him before it went on sale. (PHOTO courtesy of Coventry Digital)
I have a feeling that the person demonstrating it to him is Dick Hosking, the Head of Coventry College of Art, but I am not quite sure.
Back in 1962 I made one of those models myself. It was quite fragile but managed to survive in my bedroom for two or three years after construction before something fell on top of it. I always intended to find another of these models to make. To remind me I cut the title off the packaging, which I have used today as the heading of this article. Sadly, I have never come across any other examples of the model to make.
On the subject of DIY models of our Cathedral, in the 1990s Rupert Chicken produced a DIY cardboard model of the pre-WWII St Michael’s Cathedral. I have only ever seen that particular model referred to in an exhibition at the V&A and searching high and low I could not find any trace of the model for sale on the internet. The packaging carries the logo of Coventry City Council, so Rupert’s model must have been “official” to some extent.