Ruins of the Former Cathedral Church of St. Michael, Coventry
After Coventry Cathedral was gutted by incendiary bombs during World War II, a conscious and collective decision was taken to build a new cathedral and to preserve the ruins as a constant reminder of conflict, the need for reconciliation, and the enduring search for peace. First constructed as a chapel for the Earls of Chester’s castle in the twelfth century, the former Cathedral Church of St. Michael was significantly expanded during a time of prosperity in the late fourteenth century, and eventually became the largest parish church in England. It was elevated to the status of cathedral in 1918. An earlier church also existed near the site: the vast Benedictine Priory of St. Mary, founded by Earl Leofric and Lady Godiva in 1043 and dissolved in 1539 during the Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII. Today, the excavated remains of the priory and the post-war cathedral coexist alongside the ruins of St. Michael, linking past to present. The ruins are still consecrated and used as a gathering place and site of reflection. The weathered medieval sandstone of the tower, apse, and outer walls frame the open air space.
How We Helped
Seventy years after the bombing, the ruins of the former Cathedral Church of St. Michael have begun to crack open, and urgent help is needed to repair the fabric. Water infiltration problems and structural deterioration require immediate action, and the site was included in the 2012 World Monuments Watch to call attention to the urgent need for conservation. Now World Monuments Fund is working to safeguard and reinvigorate this evocative place, in partnership with the Dean and Chapter of Coventry Cathedral and the full co-operation of Coventry City Council, other partners, and citizens. The first step is to create a comprehensive management plan for the ruins, and to repair areas of the ruins that are in immediate need of structural stabilization. The project will also document, clean, and conserve a collection of thousands of fragments of stained glass that was removed from the Cathedral and stored during the war. Part of the vision for the revitalized site is to open the medieval crypts that lie hidden beneath the ruins to the public. WMF has secured funding from the Estate of Paul Mellon and American Express to begin to address conservation needs.
Why It Matters
Coventry is a post-industrial city of notable economic deprivation. Identifying the best ways to conserve the ruins and to use their open and enclosed spaces will see that the ancient fabric of the Cathedral and the entire Cathedral Quarter is preserved and enhanced for social benefit. Building on enhanced tourism, commercial opportunities will be established to gauge how this poorly-funded cathedral can better provide funds for maintenance from sustainable income streams. In addition to stabilizing these important ruins the project will repair, clean and present precious and rare early fifteenth-century stained glass by one of the most important glaziers of medieval England, John Thornton of Coventry, whose intact work in the east window of York Minster is the focus of a multi-million pound restoration campaign. Public programs will engage new audiences in the importance of conservation.