Coventry Cathedral presents a story of death and rebirth. The ruins of the Medieval Parish Church Cathedral of St Michael’s are the consequence of violence inflicted upon the city during World War II. Meanwhile, the modern Coventry Cathedral, also named after St. Michael, symbolises undoubted feelings of faith, determination and revivalism within the Coventry people at that moment in history. This striking blend of tragedy and hope within this location, I found both moving and intriguing. In terms of artistic endeavours, this sense of disaster yet romance reminds me of themes represented within the Pre-Raphaelite and Neo-Romanticism movements, areas I could possibly develop within my own photographic works.
On 14th November 1940, the Luftwaffe launched the most devastating bombing raid on Britain so far, a concentrated and vicious attack on the city of Coventry. The attack, carried out by 500 German bombers, was aimed to ruin Coventry’s industrial strength, a key contributor to the country’s war effort. Lasting between 11-12 hours the raid damaged or demolished 43,000 homes along with the Medieval Church of St. Michael-the only British cathedral to be destroyed during World War II and caused the loss of 1,200 lives.
In Coventry, in the immediate aftermath of the blitz the evidence was not encouraging. Panic and hysteria gripped the city, whilst half of Coventry’s population fled. As late as 1920 the city had once been described as one of the best preserved mediaeval towns in Europe and this status had been shattered and the beautiful Cathedral destroyed. However, within weeks – and contrary to all expectations – the city revived.
The decision to rebuild the Cathedral was decided the morning after the Blitz. Rather than removing the ruins or rebuilding a replica of the former church, inspired by the message of Christ for reconciliation, the Cathedral Community took the courageous step to build a new Cathedral and preserve the remains of the old Cathedral as a reminder of the waste of war. Their decision to build a new Cathedral was set to symbolise feelings of hope and reconciliation.
In 1950 a competition was held open to any architect from the British Commonwealth, to find the most suitable design for the new Cathedral. Architect Sir Basil Spence won the competition, but his unorthodox design created a stir. After much labour the structure was completed in 1962, and is how it stands today. Both Cathedrals are abundant with British artistic mastery. Sir Basil Spence, commissioned work from Graham Sutherland, John Piper, Ralph Beyer, John Hutton, Jacob Epstein, Elisabeth Frink and others. One, which is particularly striking and tragic, is that of the bronze statue of St. Michael and the Devil. It’s empowering and eye-catching, the tragic part of the sculpture is that Jacob Epstein did not live to see his creation mounted on the Cathedral. Meanwhile in the old Cathedral holds a brilliant hand painted glass by John Thornton, a master glass painter at the time.
In terms of creating imagery in this location, I’m not hugely excited. I could photograph the Cathedral and tell the history of certain elements within the location, linking to World War II but I think I could do something more. So onto Gosford Street…