Friday, May 08, 2009

Sent to Coventry

My wife and I took a day out to visit our youngest son and his girl friend who live in Coventry. I thought I'd better start by telling you why we went to Coventry because Coventry being Coventry you might have thought we had lost our marbles and gone insane.

My earliest memories of Coventry go back about 10 years. At that distant point in my life I travelled the country at weekends doing wedding photography for a company called National Weddings. They were based in Epping. They were later bought out by Kodak and then went bust and are thus no more, defunct, gone, dead, kaput! Of course, their demise happened after I had left the company, so I can only assume it was my fantastic photography which was keeping them afloat! Yes, I am very modest! Anyway, it was during this time that I kept getting wedding bookings in Coventry. Being as Coventry was a new city in my experience of life, I had hoped that there might be something about it to make it memorable in a positive sort of way. It was certainly memorable alright, but in a negative sort of way.

It is confusing. It appears to have no discernible structure to make it safely navigable. It has the most awful ring road upon which you take your life in your hands if you dare to try driving on it. It was either designed by a committee of spaghetti merchants, or someone on drugs with a deep seated hatred of humanity – particularly drivers.

It is more than anything, ugly. Apart from a few renovated buildings which survived the German bombing, it is bland, grey, concrete and just generally awful. Given that after the Second World War the town planners had a virtually clean sheet, the resulting architecture shows a complete lack of imagination, design, or flare. This is, of course, no reflection on the people of Coventry themselves. Their suffering in the War must have been terrible, as also was the suffering resulting from the mass bombing raids we inflicted upon Dresden, Cologne, Hamburg etc........

Anyway, on this occasion, we decided to have a look around Coventry Cathedral. Although I am about as far from being religious as it is possible to get, I have a certain fascination for Cathedrals and ruins. Being as Coventry's “new” cathedral was built immediately alongside the remnant shell of the old one, this gave me the opportunity to kill two birds with one stone , so to speak, although I have nothing against birds and I seldom throw stones! I did own a catapult once as a kid though.

We parked up in a car park so desolate that it gave a whole new meaning to the word “grim”. It was the kind of place you expected to come back to and find either a load of broken glass where your car once stood, or else your auto completely trashed. There was even a sign to complete the affect which taunted “Leave it on show, expect it to go.”

After a short walk amongst buildings which would not have looked out of place in North Korea, we arrived at the site of the cathedrals – old and new and began our explorations. The new cathedral was finished in 1962, six years after the foundation stone was laid in 1956; interestingly, taking about the same amount of time to rebuild as the duration of the war which destroyed it. Unfortunately, the external fa├žade is a big disappointment looking more like some kind of power station gone wrong, than the inspiring structure which it should have been. I paused to take some photographs of the entrance where there is a statue of St Michael standing in triumph over a defeated Lucifer. The original cathedral was actually named after St Michael, likewise the present one is also. There are a lot of concrete balls and small fountains in front of the entrance.

I made a bee line into the new cathedral and found it rather attractive inside, though it completely lacked anything of the grandeur and atmosphere of much more ancient structures. It really felt like a late 1950's structure, a time not exactly noted for its architectural creativity. Walking around, I spotted two features of interest. First, there was a display of a fascimile of the Turin Shroud. Now I have read a lot about the Shroud and seen many a documentary on the subject. It is an object of controversy. At the extreme of one side of the argument there are the religionists who view it as the actual death shroud of Christ. I was watching a documentary the other night on one of the religious channels (as you do) in which they were claiming that the image on the shroud is absolute proof of the resurrection. The reasoning is derived from a number of properties of the image itself, pollen deposited within the weave of the shroud, etc...etc. Okay, I don't deny there are some difficulties in accounting for some aspects of the shroud, but for it to be proof of the resurrection, you first have to prove the existence of God........I won't go on!!!!! On the other side of the argument it is claimed to be a medieval fake. Admittedly, the shroud is certainly enigmatic and there are a lot of unanswered questions surrounding it. Personally I do not believe it is the death shroud of Christ, nor any other poor victim of crucifixion. I am more inclined to think it is a fake, if only for one reason. The face of it does not look authentic to me. The eyes appear too close to the top of the head, unnaturally so. I think it is more likely the work of a not very artistic forger who lacks a sense of proportion particularly where the human face is concerned. One thing which surprised me about it is just how faint the image is on it – you really have to look hard to see it. I suppose some might claim this as a sign of its authenticity, but on balance I would say it is both a fake and an enigma all rolled into one.

The other thing which appealed to me was the baptistery window. This is made up of a lattice work of many small stained glass windows stretching the entire height of the wall on the right hand side as you look up the aisle towards the altar. It is truly beautiful and I found myself taking several photographs of it.

And that's that as far as the new cathedral goes. I found the rest of it completely underwhelming. I went and had a look around the remains of the old cathedral. This had a certain atmosphere and sadness about it. At one end is a cross composed of two burnt timbers with the message “Father Forgive” behind it. The tower still stands, but the rest is a shell, a memory of what once was - and a lasting memorial to the folly of war and the stupidity of Man.

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