The city of Coventry, now famous for its magnificent, triumphant twentieth-century Cathedral designed by Sir Basil Spence, lies in the Midlands about 38 kilometres from Birmingham and 49 from Stratford-upon-Avon. Like nearby Birmingham, the importance of Coventry as an armaments centre made it a priority target during the Second World War. It was the air raid on Coventry on the night of the 14th November 1940 that destroyed the medieval Cathedral of the city and 568 of its citizens. The code name for that raid what was "Operation Moonlight Sonata", a romantic name for a ghastly reality. The empty shell of the old Cathedral, still standing adjacent to the glory of the new, is a stark reminder of that event.
a Spiritual and an Architectural Experience
As the visitor steps out of the remains of the former Cathedral into the new he feels a mysterious combination of sorrow and joy, a conflicting sense of defeat and triumph. He effectively and profoundly experiences that spiritual reality that lies at the heart of Christianity: death and resurrection. This is the power of Coventry Cathedral.
The sheer impact of the different styles, the perpendicular style of the old building dating from medieval times and the modern controversial style of Sir basil Spence, is an architectural experience in itself that should not be missed.
The ruins of the old Cathedral
As the visitor approaches the Cathedral he is immediately struck by the contrast of old and new. On the left the shell of the former Cathedral and on the right the impressively modern building with its zigzag effect and imposing bronze statue of the archangel Michael triumphing over Satan.
The new Cathedral
This enormous bronze statue, St Michael Subduing the Devil by Sir Jacob Epstein, weighs four tons and the figure of Michael is approximately 6 metres tall. It constitutes a powerful symbol of the triumphant resurrection of the Cathedral despite the powers of evil and destruction. It is so impressive as to induce the visitor to enter the new building immediately but it is advisable to resist this temptation and enter the ruins of the former Cathedral first to make the most of the visit and resulting spiritual experience.
St Michael and the Devil
by Jacob Epstein