Coventry Cathedral is a focal point of the city of Coventry and is also the most powerful reminder of the destruction caused by the bombing of Coventry during the Second World War. A few ruins remain of the first cathedral in Coventry, which was the Priory Church of St Mary built in the 12th century. The second more imposing cathedral, the Parish Church Cathedral of St Michael, was built in the 15th century and lasted until 14 November 1940, when all except some of the walls was destroyed. A modern cathedral next to the ruin was built in the 1950s-60s and the ruin is preserved today for visitors. Below is a photograph of Coventry taken immediately after the bombing and a photograph of the cathedral ruins today.
Many of the old photographs I use in this post are taken from Coventry Old and New by E. B. Newbold. The book also contains many photos of Coventry before the bombing which really shows the extent of the destruction when compared to the appearance of the city today. Around 500 German aircraft were involved in the attack and 4330 homes and one third of all factories were destroyed. The bombing was described by the German Official News Agency as “the most severe in the whole history of the war”. From the BBC website:
The bombing began at 1920 and did not cease until dawn. The all-clear was finally sounded at 0615 GMT.
The city’s tram system was destroyed. Nearly all gas and water pipes were smashed and people have been advised to boil emergency supplies of water.
The cathedral Provost, the Very Reverend Dick Howard and a party of helpers attempted to deal with 12 incendiary bombs by smothering them with sand. But another shower of incendiaries accompanied by high explosives forced them to give up their efforts.
Mr Howard said: “The cathedral will rise again, will be rebuilt, and it will be as great a pride to future generations as it has been to generations of the past.”
Above are photographs of the interior and exterior of the old cathedral before it was destroyed. The first was taken of the congregation attending the memorial service for King Edward VII in May 1910, showing the now lost magnificence of the cathedral, which is interesting when compared to the interior of the new 20th century cathedral (pictured below). The second photograph was taken in the 1930s.
The bombing did lead to a detailed excavation of the cathedral ruins as well as the ruins of the older medieval monastic buildings and I managed to get hold of the archaeological and historical report from 1971. Below is a plan of the both cathedral ruins superimposed on a modern (or 1970s) street plan. The cathedral destroyed in the war is in the bottom right corner and you can see how the new cathedral backs on to it. The ruins of the older Priory Church of St Mary are minimal, but I visited them and you can walk down into the excavated crypt and see the remains of the walls and some columns. Additionally below is an artist’s impression of how the cathedral would have looked in the 15th century from the report and a photograph of the interior of the modern cathedral.