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Both Coventry Cathedrals

[Background: On November 14, 1940, the Nazis bombed the city of Coventry, England.  Much of the city was destroyed in one night, including its famous cathedral. Writing in his journal the next morning, Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels observed: "There, a city really was wiped out… It is only ruins now." A reconciliation ministry began that day.  Its symbol is the cross of nails, modeled after a similar cross constructed of three medieval roof-nails found in the charred rubble the next morning. The Community of the Cross of Nails is a network of over 170 reconciliation centers, worldwide, based in Coventry. Although the old cathedral was beyond repair, the decision was made not to raze the ruins.  They were stabilized, and left as a symbol of the destruction of that dreadful night.  A radically modern cathedral was built right next door, as a symbol that reconciliation does not require amnesia, a total forgetting.  This design is controversial to this day.]


[Provost Dick Howard writes, in his book Ruined and Rebuilt, of watching Coventry Cathedral being destroyed in one night of Nazi bombing…]

"As I watched the Cathedral burning, it seemed to me as though I were watching the crucifixion of Jesus upon His Cross…. It was in some mysterious way a participation in the infinite sacrifice of the crucifixion of Christ. As I went with this thought on my mind into the ruined Cathedral on the morning after the destruction, there flashed into my mind the deep certainty that as the Cathedral had been crucified with Christ, so it would rise again with Him. How or when, we could not tell; nor did it matter. The Cathedral would rise again."

The Christian story reminds us that death and destruction will never have the last word. This is also the message in the design of Coventry's new cathedral, which rises right next to the ruins of the old one. The whole symbolism of this new place of worship with its majestic tapestry of Christ in Glory proclaims this message - Jesus Christ has risen from the dead and he will come again in glory. Old and new belong together, just as the cross and the empty tomb. Only if we understand both cathedrals as one, shall we understand the message of Coventry rightly: one is a memorial that keeps up the remembrance of pain, death and the cross; the other is an architectonic witness of faith, that the risen Lord releases us into a new life of reconciliation.

This concept shows at the same time that it was never intended to forget Coventry's past. The traumatic experiences were given their due weight. The destroyed cathedral was not replaced by a new building. The ruins remain a permanent memorial of the endured grief and pain. The new cathedral, however, shows that this is not the last word. Out of pain and grief arise new beginnings. As we have already seen in Joseph's story, Coventry also shows that forgiving does not mean forgetting but remembering in a new way. The memories of the horrors of war became a motivation to turn hostility into friendship.

- Oliver Schuegraf, "Telling God's stories again and again--reflection on remembrance and reconciliation," Modern Believing, July 2006, p. 39.

Source of Howard quote:
- R.T. Howard, Ruined and Rebuilt: The Story of Coventry Cathedral, 1939-1962 (Coventry: Council of Coventry Cathedral, 1962), p. 22.