How Coventry Cathedral Has Inspired the World

Posted by James Warwood  ·  Be the first to comment

“...tomorrow morning Coventry will lie in smoke and ruins.” – Josef Goebbels, Ministry of Propaganda.After the devastation of World War Two, Coventry Cathedral did something remarkable – they sought reconciliation rather than revenge.

Coventry Cathedral after the Air Raid

by External Radiance

14.11.1940 – The Coventry Blitz

At 19:20, thirteen Heinkel He 111 aircraft dropped marker flares at crucial utilities (water supply, electricity network, telephones and gas mains). What followed was a devastating bombing lasting throughout the night. Over 500 German Luftwaffe bombers took part in the air raid focusing their attack on industrial factories in the city centre.

Volunteer fire-fighters were overwhelmed by incendiary bombs designed to cause firestorms. At around 20:00 a fire broke out in the cathedral and despite a successful snuff of the initial fire, other direct hits caused a firestorm which ultimately led to its destruction.

In just one night more than 43,000 homes, the entire city centre, two hospitals, two churches and the police station were destroyed by around 500 tons of explosives. An estimated 568 people died in the raid, with over one thousand people sustaining injuries.

The next morning while the rubble was still smouldering the then leader of the cathedral, Richard Howard, took a piece of chalk and wrote on the sanctuary walls – “Father, Forgive.”

Breaking the Vengeful Cycle

Cross of Nails given to Berlin

by Immanuel Giel

Provost Richard Howard made a bold move to break the cycle of vengeance. The 1940 Christmas Day service was broadcast on BBC radio from amongst the ruins of the cathedral where he vowed that, when the war was over, the cathedral would work with the people who were previously their enemies “to build a kinder, more Christ-like world.”

Inspired by the cathedral’s stonemason, who made a wooden cross from the debris, Richard made a cross from the nails that originally held the roof together. The destroyed alter was remade from the rubble, the crosses were placed on the new altar and the words ‘Father, Forgive’ were inscribed behind.

After the war ended, the cathedral donated a 'Cross of Nails' to the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in Berlin, which was also destroyed in the war. Today there are 160 Cross of Nails Centres across the globe, each one owning a cross made from three nails from Coventry Cathedral, symbolizing the road to reconciliation.

Father, Forgive

Every weekday at noon in the new cathedral (and in the ruins on Friday), the Coventry Litany of Reconciliation is prayed. In the context of World War Two, the cathedral's destruction and the work of the Community of the Cross of Nails which rose from the ashes, this prayer sends a rumble more powerful than the Luftwaffe’s engines or the bombs they drops.

All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
The hatred which divides nation from nation, race from race, class from class… Father Forgive.
The covetous desires of people and nations to possess what is not their own… Father Forgive.
The greed which exploits the work of human hands and lays waste the earth… Father Forgive.
Our envy of the welfare and happiness of others… Father Forgive.
Our indifference to the plight of the imprisoned, the homeless, the refugee… Father Forgive.
The lust which dishonours the bodies of men, women and children… Father Forgive.
The pride which leads us to trust in ourselves and not in God… Father Forgive.
Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

The Peacemaker with 35 Bodyguards

Ever since 1940, Coventry Cathedral has appointed a ‘Canon for Reconciliation’; held by the likes of Archbishop Justin Welby and Rev Andrew White. Now the Vicar of the only Anglican Church in Baghdad, Rev Andrew White follows in the footsteps of Richard Howard in reconciling the religious conflict within Iraq’s capital.

This fascinating man, who has 35 bodyguards, multiple sclerosis and over 20 adopted Iraqi children, is the leader of the High Council for Religious Leaders and runs the largest medical centre in Iraq in his church (and quite possibly the largest selection of amusing bowties and handkerchiefs in Iraq).

Father, Forgive: Reflections on Peacemaking is the story of reconciliation between Coventry and Dresden (often referred to as the Allied Forces retaliation for the Coventry Blitz), between Sunni and Shia in Iraq, and between those who have hurt you and which calls you into Christ’s ongoing work of reconciliation.

“In our own church, St. George’s in Baghdad, a cross of nails stands on the altar, embedded in a piece of the bombed wall from the former cathedral. Each time I see this cross it reminds me that reconciliation is about mending what is broken. Iraq is broken and here we are working towards its restoration. All day, every day, we are working for reconciliation.” – Rev Andrew White, taken from ‘Father, Forgive’.

Read our interview with Rev Andrew White – Faith Under Fire: Vicar of Baghdad. Or visit the ruins in Coventry to see the original wooden cross and Cross of Nails for yourself.

12th April

April 12th, 2013 - Posted & Written by James Warwood

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