England // The West Midlands and the Peak District //

Coventry Cathedral

At the outbreak of World War II, COVENTRY, eleven miles north of Warwick, was a major engineering centre and its factories attracted the attentions of the Luftwaffe, who well-nigh levelled the town in a huge bombing raid on November 14, 1940. Out of the ashes arose what is now Coventry’s one sight of note, Basil Spence’s St Michael’s Cathedral, raised alongside the burnt-out shell of the old cathedral right in the centre of town and dedicated with a performance of Benjamin Britten’s specially written War Requiem in 1962. One of the country’s most successful postwar buildings, the cathedral’s pink sandstone is light and graceful, the main entrance adorned by a stunningly forceful St Michael Defeating the Devil by Jacob Epstein. Inside, Spence’s high and slender nave is bathed in light from the soaring stained-glass windows, a perfect setting for the magnificent and immense tapestry of Christ in Glory by Graham Sutherland. The choice of artist could not have been more appropriate. A painter, graphic artist and designer, Sutherland (1903–80) had been one of Britain’s official war artists, his particular job being to record the effects of German bombing. A canopied walkway links the new cathedral with the old, whose shattered nave flanks the church tower and spire that somehow eluded the bombs.

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