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COVENTRY CATHEDRAL

The High Altar and the Tapestry
of Graham Sutherland



As we overcome the awe-inspiring first impression on entering the new cathedral our gaze turns towards the nave and continues down to the focal point of the building, the high altar itself, dominated by the famous majestic tapestry of Christ the King designed by Graham Sutherland and woven by the Frères Pinton at Felletin in France.

The altar stands out from the backdrop of the tapestry for its extreme simplicity. It is not made of marble or of any other precious stone but is a simple block of concrete. We have seen the same contrast on entering the cathedral - that between the richly decorated stained-glass window dominating the simple, unadorned baptismal font. The contrast here, too, is full of theological significance. The functional, non decorative elements of the cathedral are generally characterised by extreme simplicity befitting their roles in the Christian liturgy.

 

The high altar and tapestry by Graham Sutherland
The high altar
and tapestry by
Graham Sutherland

There is a studied ambiguity in portraying the posture of Christ; it is impossible to tell if he is in a sitting or standing position.


The tapestry by Graham Sutherland
The tapestry
by
Graham Sutherland

The figure is surrounded by the symbols of the four evangelists and again we have the defeated figure of Satan at the left hand side of the figure (our right) reminding us of the figure of the devil dominated by the Archangel Michael outside. Once again we have a symbol of triumph. So far the message of triumph has dominated: the figure of Michael and Satan, the new Cathedral emerging from the ashes of the old and now the key to all of this, the majestic figure of the resurrected Christ in all his glory, the King of the universe. The perennial message of the Christian is ever present: defeat and victory, death and resurrection, even in this majestic figure we have signs of the suffering that precedes the resurrection in the form of the marks of nails in the hands and feet of the Christ figure in the tapestry. The crown and the cross are subtly combined in this figure as they were in the life of Christ and, indeed, in the life of every one of His followers today. At the foot of the Christ figure, between his legs, stands the figure of a human being, representative of the whole of humanity that Christ has redeemed.

The cathedral, the baptismal font and the high altar were consecrated 25th May 1962. Many dignitaries were present including Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II with the Bishop of Coventry, Dr Cuthbert Bardsley, presiding over the liturgical celebrations.

 

RJW

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latest update: 27/6/04