Coventry Cathedral is the most humane building I know. We enter through the shell of the bombed, burned out building, yet even here there are signs of restoration: that king to the left of the window, and the angel face
are too sharp for centuries of wear. There is the shell, showing the work of the Bombs and the fire, and also faces, people amid the devastation.
have such wonderful erect necks, unbowed though their bodies are mangled.
These people kneel to each other. There is no sex in this embrace, but surrender-
They bury their eyes in each other’s shoulders, in trust and togetherness.
Ah- an Epstein. Nothing but the best here! He seems too proud to me. I have wondered what we read into that face.
This cathedral is filled with Words!
Hallowed be thy name in THE ARTS. God be in my senses and in my creating
Hallowed be thy name in SUFFERING. God be in my pain and in my enduring
It is worthy of that prayer. Here people have suffered, and have vowed that no other human should suffer. In the East end of the church, where the altar used to be, lies a bishop, who died in 1922, who rebuilt the church, and holds it, whole and strong, in his hands. Note the swastika on his mitre, at the time an unobjectionable, even Spiritual, symbol.
It is the way the land was, but we descend stairs going from the old to the new building. You ascend stairs to the older chapel at Fatima, physical labour to reach God, but descending is both going down into the dark and an easy motion, for God accepts us as we are. We enter on the South, and move towards the North, where the Sun never rises: we see God in the darkness, in all that suffering, God always with us, even in the worst we may bear. So keen had we been to photograph the old church and its new inhabitants that we entered a minute before last entry.
The South Wall. I love these engravings on the glass. They look thoroughly Mediaeval, and modern. As engravings, they can be livelier than the statues on the entrance-wall of cathedrals usually are. I love those exuberant musical instruments.
On entry, there is that glorious huge stained glass window on the East wall at the South end, letting the light in as to any church, but here above the Font, a bare rock with the shape of a shell carved into it. How wonderful to be admitted to Christ’s flock in all that Light!
But as we journey towards God in this church, we go North, into the dark. We pass more words:
A new commandment I give unto you + that ye love one another as I have loved you
Christ in majesty. He is seated, but that is not how knees would look in a chair. A friend thought it looked like the abdomen of a beetle, but to me he has wide, child-bearing hips: this is the closest the artist, in the 1950s, could get to the Christa, the female Christ. Beneath, from the back of the church, we see him hanging dead. Here it is from closer up, visible through bars from behind the High Altar:
The nails from the burned out cathedral are at the base of the Cross.
There is more lovely stained glass on the West wall:
This chapel is East of the high altar. Through the Crown of Thorns, we see the Angel Gabriel ministering to Jesus in Gethsemane, while to our right the disciples sleep.
There was a tour, and I dodged into the chapel. I wanted to take photographs, but just then I wanted to kneel. Then the tour guide pointed out the sleeping disciples, and I was so moved I had to go to see them.
After, the guide and separately one of the tourists, or pilgrims, came up to me to apologise. They had not meant to disturb me. I wanted to reassure them, I did not want them to regret, so careful, here, we are of each others’ feelings. The guide told me that when someone in the cathedral needs to speak to a clergyperson, they bring them here, and the weight on their hearts always lessens.
This stained glass is in the Chapel of Unity in the South end:
I love the light and dark, the long passage through solid concrete to the window, whose light suffuses the space between. It is the opposite effect to the North-East chapel, which is all glass, all light. But both are round, a symbol of the equality of Christ’s children.
Out. I find myself sympathising with Lucifer, under Michael’s feet. His feet are chained but his arms are free, but behind his back in surrender; and that face!
I don’t understand this figure, high above the cathedral. Perhaps I should not expect to understand everything at first glance.