The third Monday in January is known as Blue Monday – and is supposed to be the northern hemisphere’s most depressing day of the year due to ‘weather conditions, debt level (the difference between debt accumulated and our ability to pay), time since Christmas, time since failing our new year’s resolutions, low motivational levels and feeling of a need to take action’. And certainly this past Monday, January 21, was very cloudy and dull. And yes, it does feel like a long time since Christmas. And so what better place to spend the day than in Coventry, the most central city in England, and famous for 2 things – its cathedral and its car factories. Oh yes, and it’s also to be the next UK City of Culture in 2021! And it also happened to be very near my old friend, Liz in Leamington Spa who had kindly invited me to stay the night on Monday night. So – to Coventry I went, though not in one of these old Coventry-made cars. Though I wish!
THE place in the city to start is at the old cathedral, which was destroyed in the Coventry Blitz on November 14, 1940. The walls and the tower remain, and its definitely worth going up the tower, especially to look down on the remains of the old cathedral below…
From the Coventry Cathedral website: “The majority of the great ruined churches and cathedrals of England are the outcome of the violence of the dissolution in 1539. The ruins of St Michael’s are the consequence of violence in our own time. On the night of 14 November 1940, the city of Coventry was devastated by bombs dropped by the Luftwaffe. The Cathedral burned with the city, having been hit by several incendiary devices.
The decision to rebuild the cathedral was taken the morning after its destruction. Rebuilding would not be an act of defiance, but rather a sign of faith, trust and hope for the future of the world. It was the vision of the Provost at the time, Richard Howard, which led the people of Coventry away from feelings of bitterness and hatred. This has led to the cathedral’s Ministry of Peace and Reconciliation, which has provided spiritual and practical support, in areas of conflict throughout the world.
Shortly after the destruction, the cathedral stonemason, Jock Forbes, noticed that two of the charred medieval roof timbers had fallen in the shape of a cross. He set them up in the ruins where they were later placed on an altar of rubble with the moving words ‘Father Forgive’ inscribed on the Sanctuary wall. Another cross was fashioned from three medieval nails by local priest, the Revd Arthur Wales. The Cross of Nails has become the symbol of Coventry’s ministry of reconciliation.
Her Majesty the Queen laid the foundation stone on 23 March 1956 and the building was consecrated on 25 May 1962, in her presence. The ruins remain hallowed ground and together the two create one living Cathedral.
The place we call ‘Coventry Cathedral’ is in fact two buildings that lie at the very heart of the city of Coventry. The Ruins of the ‘old Cathedral’ are the remains of a medieval parish church, consecrated to be the Cathedral of the new Diocese of Coventry in 1918. In a little over 20 years, this building would be destroyed by enemy air attack in the Second World War. Rather than sweeping away the ruins or rebuilding a replica of the former church, inspired by the message of Christ for reconciliation, the then leaders of the Cathedral Community took the courageous step to build a new Cathedral and preserve the remains of the old Cathedral as a moving reminder of the folly and waste of war. From that point, Coventry Cathedral became the inspiration for a ministry of peace and reconciliation that has reached out across the entire world.
The ‘new’ Cathedral was itself an inspiration to many fine artists of the post-war era. The architect, Sir Basil Spence, commissioned work from Graham Sutherland, John Piper, Ralph Beyer, John Hutton, Jacob Epstein, Elisabeth Frink and others – most still to reach the peak of their artistic careers. In the ‘old Cathedral’ it is still possible to see (uniquely) at eye-level, sections of outstanding, hand painted glass by John Thornton (circa 1450). Thornton, born in Coventry, was recognised as a master glass painter of his time and went on to paint the windows of York Minster.”
The architect, Basil Spence eventually retired to Yaxley, Suffolk and is buried in the churchyard of Thornham Parva, one of my CMS link churches – it’s more famous as being the church with the thatched roof, but does contain a small and humble grave for the man who designed this huge and glorious cathedral.
The windows are amazing, especially the Baptistry Window…
But there’s also plenty more to see, sculptures and art works and side chapels and all sorts of other meaningful things. Go!
And after that, the only other place in Coventry you must see is the nearby Coventry Transport Museum, which is free too, and huge and full of old cars and bicycles, all shiny and beautiful and oozing with history. It’s a great place to visit and oooh and aaah over all the classic cars!
So the best place to beat the Blue Monday Blues – or any Monday Blues come to that – even whether it’s a Monday or not – is Coventry. You must go, and as it’s England’s most central city, it isn’t too far from anywhere. Just requires a bit of time and energy. A great place, really meaningful and with plenty to reflect upon and marvel at. Just check it out!
AND, take note, Coventry is to be the next UK City of Culture in 2021 ~ Congratulations Coventry ~ YES YES YES!