The Cathedral Church of St Michael, commonly known as Coventry Cathedral, is the seat of the Bishop of Coventry and the Diocese of Coventry, and is part of the Church of England in Coventry, West Midlands. The current (9th) bishop is Christopher Cocksworth and the current Dean is John Witcombe.
The city has had three cathedrals. The first was St Mary's, a monastic building, of which only a few ruins remain. The second was St Michael's, a 14th-century Gothic church later designated cathedral, which remains a ruined shell after its bombing during the Second World War. The third is the new St Michael's Cathedral, built after the destruction of the former.
The first cathedral in Coventry was St Mary's Priory and Cathedral, 1095 to 1102, when Robert de Limesey moved the bishop's see from Lichfield to Coventry, until 1539 when it fell victim to Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries. Prior to 1095, it had been a small Benedictine monastery (endowed by Leofric, Earl of Mercia and Lady Godiva in 1043). Shortly after 1095 rebuilding began and by the middle of the 13th century it was a cathedral of 142 yards in length and included many large outbuildings. Leofric was probably buried within the original Saxon church in Coventry. However, records suggest that Godiva was buried at Evesham Abbey, alongside her father confessor, Prior Aefic.
St Michael's Church was largely constructed between the late 14th century and early 15th century. It was one of the largest parish churches in England when, in 1918, it was elevated to cathedral status on the creation of Coventry Diocese. This St Michael's Cathedral now stands ruined, bombed almost to destruction during the Coventry Blitz of 14 November 1940 by the German Luftwaffe. Only the tower, spire, the outer wall and the bronze effigy and tomb of its first bishop, Huyshe Yeatman-Biggs, survived.
The ruins of this older cathedral remain hallowed ground and are listed at Grade I. Following the bombing of the medieval cathedral in 1940, Provost Richard Howard had the words "Father Forgive" inscribed on the wall behind the altar of the ruined building. The spire rises to 90 m (295 ft) and is the tallest structure in the city. It is also the third tallest cathedral spire in England, with only Salisbury and Norwich cathedrals rising higher.
The current St Michael's Cathedral, built next to the remains of the old, was designed by Basil Spence and Arup, built by John Laing and is a Grade I listed building. The selection of Spence for the work was a result of a competition held in 1950 to find an architect for the new Coventry Cathedral; his design was chosen from over two hundred submitted.
Spence (later knighted for this work) insisted that instead of re-building the old cathedral it should be kept in ruins as a garden of remembrance and that the new cathedral should be built alongside, the two buildings together effectively forming one church. The use of Hollington sandstone for the new Coventry Cathedral provides an element of unity between the buildings.
The foundation stone of the new cathedral was laid by Elizabeth II on 23 March 1956. The unconventional spire (known as a flèche) is 80 feet (24 metres) tall and was lowered onto the flat roof by a helicopter, flown by Wing Commander John Dowling in April 1962. The cathedral was consecrated on 25 May 1962, and Benjamin Britten's War Requiem, composed for the occasion, was premiered in the new cathedral on 30 May to mark its consecration.
Coventry's modernist design caused much discussion, but on opening to the public it rapidly became a hugely popular symbol of reconciliation in post-war Britain. The interior is notable for its huge tapestry (once thought to be the world's largest) of Christ, designed by Graham Sutherland, the emotive sculpture of the Mater Dolorosa by John Bridgeman in the East end, and the Baptistry window designed by John Piper (made by Patrick Reyntiens), of abstract design that occupies the full height of the bowed baptistery, which comprises 195 panes, ranging from white to deep colours.
The stained glass windows in the Nave, by Lawrence Lee, Keith New and Geoffrey Clarke, face away from the congregation. Spence's concept for these Nave windows was that the opposite pairs would represent a pattern of growth from birth to old age, culminating in heavenly glory nearest the altar — one side representing Human, the other side, the Divine.
Also worthy of note is the Great West Window known as the Screen of Saints and Angels, engraved directly onto the screen in expressionist style by John Hutton. (Although referred to as the West Window, this is the 'liturgical west' opposite the altar which is traditionally at the east end. In this cathedral the altar is actually at the north end.) The foundation stone, the ten stone panels inset into the walls of the cathedral called the Tablets of the Word, and the baptismal font were designed and carved by the émigré German letter carver Ralph Beyer.
** – Theological emphasis – **
As the cathedral was built on the site of a Benedictine monastery, there has always been a gentle Benedictine influence on the cathedral community. A number of the cathedral staff become third order (lay) Benedictines and there are often cathedral retreats to Burford Priory.
Since the opening of the new cathedral in 1962 there has been a gentle evangelical emphasis. This has been strengthened by the former Dean, John Irvine, who was involved in creating the Alpha Course and previously served at Holy Trinity Brompton, and also as vicar of the first Brompton church plant, St Barnabas, Kensington. The cathedral has a strong emphasis on the Bible and aims to be a centre for good preaching and training for the diocese. It runs regular mission events such as the innovative Spirit of Life days where over 2,000 local residents are encouraged to explore their faith in God through Christian spirituality.
The cathedral is also known for innovation in its services. As well as the expected traditional services (on Sundays, Cathedral Eucharist at 10.30 a.m. and Choral Evensong at 4.00 p.m.), there is a 6.30 p.m. Sunday service with contemporary music, preaching and prayer ministry. The Cathedral Youth Work runs Goth church and Urban Church outreach congregations for local groups of young people, an equipping and supporting cell group for youth workers within Coventry churches as well as a number of other regular groups.
There continues to be a strong influence of reconciliation within the theology (both vertical: reconciling people to God; and horizontal: reconciling individuals and groups). This is present throughout the ministry of the cathedral but is most clearly seen in the International Centre for Reconciliation and the International Network of Communities of the Cross of Nails. The reconciliation work exists locally in reconciling churches and community groups but also internationally (predominantly in the Middle East and central Africa) working with terrorists and dictators as well as local churches, tribes and gangs.
Justin Welby (then a canon of the cathedral) established a special day for bereaved parents in the cathedral after the death of his own daughter. There is now an annual service commemorating the lives of children who have died. A book with the names of lost children is on display in the cathedral and anyone who has lost a child under any circumstances can ask for their child's name to be added to the book.
** – Symbols of reconciliation – **
The old cathedral grounds are home to a number of symbols of reconciliation, to complement the churches mission.
One of the crosses made of nails from the old cathedral was donated to the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in Berlin, which was destroyed by Allied bombing and is also kept as a ruin alongside a newer building. A replica of the cross of nails was also donated to the Chapel of Reconciliation (Kapelle der Versöhnung) which forms part of the Berlin Wall Memorial.
A medieval cross of nails has also been carried on board all British warships which subsequently bear the name HMS Coventry. The cross of nails was on board the Type 42 destroyer Coventry when she was sunk by enemy action in the Falklands War. The cross was salvaged by Royal Navy divers, and presented to Coventry Cathedral by the ship's Captain and colleagues. The cross was subsequently presented first to the next Coventry in 1988 until she was decommissioned in 2002, and then to HMS Diamond, which is affiliated to Coventry, during her commissioning ceremony on 6 May 2011 by Captain David Hart-Dyke, the commanding officer of Coventry when she was sunk.
The BBC broadcast a documentary in 1962 entitled Act of Faith, narrated by Leo Genn, detailed the history of Coventry Cathedral, its destruction and rebuilding.
** – Visiting Access – **
The Cathedral Church of St Michael is situated in the city centre of Coventry. The site includes the second Cathedral (known as the ‘old’ Cathedral and often referred to as ‘the Ruins’), and the third or ‘new’ Cathedral on a hill top with differences in the ground level but with access provided to all external areas.
The Ruins are on one level accessible from the south and west end (next to where the Tower is) from both Bayley Lane and Cuckoo Lane. You should allow two hours to tour around the two Cathedrals.
If you are interested in the first Cathedral (the Priory of St Mary), situated alongside the Ruins and new Cathedral, please note that it is a ground level ruin which is not managed by Coventry Cathedral, and as such you will need to make separate enquiries via their website https://www.coventrypriory.co.uk/
There are usually complimentary guided tours of the Ruins and the New Cathedral at 11am, 12:15, and 2pm daily (with the exception of Sundays when there is a tour at 1pm only). However, these are run by volunteers and as such may not always be available; they would advise you to check before visiting. It is possible to guarantee a guide by pre-booking (a small fee is payable), and this is mandatory for groups who wish to take a guided tour. There is a full educational programme for school visits.
Please note that some areas of the new Cathedral can only be reached via steps and so are not accessible to those using wheelchairs. There is a model of the Cathedral for a person with visual impairment to touch. This is located in the Nave. There is a hearing loop in the new Cathedral which is used for services and events. Both their brochure and guide are available in larger print upon request.
There is a wheelchair available for loan, free of charge. Please ask at the Welcome Desk. Their staff and volunteers are on hand throughout the Cathedral should you require any assistance. They look forward to welcoming you. If you have any queries or require any particular assistance please call 024 7652 1200 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The nearest bus stop is at Pool Meadow bus station which is about 200 metres away with a slight incline leading up to the Cathedral. The main road outside the Cathedral (Priory Street) has a wide pavement. On the other side of the Cathedral, near the church of Holy Trinity, in Cuckoo Lane and Bayley Lane, there are many cobbled pathways and limited dropped kerbs.
There is no car parking on the site. The nearest car park is Grove Street car park (CV1 5AG) which is located underneath the ring road. There are a two Blue Badge parking bays on Bayley Lane. There is a drop off point on Priory Street, just in front of the steps and ramp leading up to the entrance for the new Cathedral, where there is not a kerb.
** – Access to the new Cathedral – **
Access to the new Cathedral is via seven steps to a landing then a further thirteen steps. There are hand rails on either side. Alternatively there is a ramp leading around the old Cathedral up to the porch area between the two buildings. To enter the new Cathedral there is a vestibule comprising of two glass doors, measuring 90cm wide with 103cm between them. The welcome desk is directly in front of you. The area is lit.
Access to the Chapel of Unity is via four steps followed by a landing followed by three additional steps. There is no hand rail and this is the only means of access. Alternatively on request level access can be gained from the outside to the bottom of the three steps where a non DDA compliant metal ramp can be deployed and assistance offered to navigate the upper steps should visitors choose to use it.
Access to the Lady Chapel and Chapel of Christ in Gethsemane are via either a ramp (on the left hand aisle facing the Tapestry) or eight shallow steps from the right hand side. There is a hand rail.
Access to the Chapel of Christ the Servant is via four shallow steps. Care should be taken on entering and exiting this area due to changes in natural lighting. This is the only means of access.
To access the Millennium Chapel there are sixteen steps down from the Lady Chapel/Cathedral or sixteen steps up from Saint Michael’s Gallery. This is the only means of access.
There is a service lift to access the lower floor which can only be used with assistance from a trained member of staff or volunteer. Please ask at the welcome desk. Most standard displays are in large font. If you wish to attend a service they are able to guide individuals to appropriate seating.
** – The Chapter House, Retail outlet, Café, and St Michaels Gallery – **
Reached either by descending the staircase from the Nave or alternatively there is access via the Chapter House entrance from Priory Street, down a wide smooth pathway to a sliding glass door which is 180cm wide. There is a raised weather strip at the threshold at floor level. The path can be slippery in wet or freezing conditions.
The lower ground floor (or Undercroft) is all accessible with no steps throughout the Chapter House, St. Michael’s Gallery, toilets, Lecture Hall and Rising Café. The Chapter House is completely accessible (the door is 110cm wide but can be extended to 210cm). There is no hearing loop in this area of the Cathedral. There is a wheelchair available for loan, free of charge. Please ask at the Retail Desk.
There are toilets in St Michael’s Gallery. The Men’s toilet is on one level with a door measuring 84cm for access – there is one cubicle and 3 urinals. The Ladies toilets have level access but the 3 WCs are on a raised platform with a step of 18 cm to enable plumbing. The flooring is non-slip.
The Rising Café is located on the lower ground floor and has step free level access from Saint Michael’s Gallery, and the cobbled pathway running around the north side of the Cathedral. The internal entrance doors to the Café is 80cm but can be opened to 151cm. The external entrance door to the Café is 58cm but it is a double door which can be opened to enable 116cm access.
The style and feel of the Café is vintage 1940’s, and as such the furniture is not of a uniform shape or size, and is quite close together. There are a mix of chair types and informal seating areas with sofas. Provision can be made for wheelchairs and walkers: please contact the Café directly on 02476 521235 to arrange this. The flooring comprises dark coloured tiling. Orders are placed at the counter and brought to the tables by staff.
** – Public Toilets – **
There are three vertical hand rails (one by the sink and two by the toilet). There are two horizontal rails by the toilet and one by the basin which has lever taps. The floors are blue and walls are cream. The floor is non-slip. The toilets are well lit with fluorescent tube overhead lighting with a low level light switch. There is no emergency alarm pull cord.
There is a circular pathway between the Chapel of Unity and the Unity Lawn. This leads to a cobbled area but the path is relatively smooth and 120cm wide.
The Ruins are built on a hill. There is flat, even access from Bayley Lane (which is cobbled) and from the west end of the Ruins (i.e. where the Tower is) from Saint Michael’s Avenue. St Michael’s Avenue is cobbled but this pathway also has an inlay of smooth stone slabs to enable access. From the porch which links the two Cathedrals, there are twenty steps from the new Cathedral to the Ruins with a hand rail on both sides.
The ruins are reasonably flat and are a mixture of slabs with some cobbled areas. There is a slight change in the gradient at the north and south aisles. Please take care in the Ruins as there are many raised column bases, tombs and memorials. The paving is uneven in places and can be slippery in wet weather or freezing conditions. There is a chain across the sanctuary where there are two small steps leading up to the Altar. This is only accessible during times of worship.
Access to the Haigh Chapel within the Ruins is accessible via two steps and the door is 75cm wide. The Cappers Rooms is inaccessible unless you have excellent mobility and sight, due to a narrow spiral staircase. Access to this room and the Haigh Chapel are only available by prior appointment.
** – Blitz Experience – **
The Blitz Experience is an exhibition of life in Coventry before and after the bombing. It is located in five rooms underneath the Sanctuary in the Ruins. The access is down seven steps located under a canopy to the right of the Altar. The access is 126cm wide – there is no handrail.
The Cathedral Tower shop is located at the bottom of the tower. To enter there is a vestibule comprising of two glass doors, measuring 78cm wide with 136cm between them. There is level access from inside the Ruins apart from a raised threshold and the paved floor is also level.
The Tower Climb is accessible through a door which is 60cm wide. There are one hundred and eighty one steps of average 20cm depth forming a narrow spiral staircase, where passing other persons is difficult apart from by pausing in the bell viewing room.
There is a raised platform/stage in the ruins. It is 75cm high with access via five steps at either side of the area and a further two shallow steps towards the rear of the platform. There is no hand rail.
St Clare’s Church Community & shop, St Michaels Avenue. There is an access ramp with a double door measuring 178 cm wide. The floor is all on one level. The counter is situated directly in front of the entrance door. It is well-lit and has a lowered desk to enable access (75cm high). The Shop has shelves at levels up to 155cm – a member of staff is always available to assist. There is occasionally background music playing.
** – Cathedral Offices – Youell House, Hill Top – **
The Cathedral Offices are located next to the Cathedral. They are accessible via a steep service road next to the Britannia Hotel on Fairfax Street or Priory Row via Hill Top.
There is a steep incline on the cobbled alleyway to the entrance of Youell House. This is for approx. four metres. Once through the gate of Youell House there is a smooth paved area which has a slight incline to the office door. The intercom bell is located 130cm from the ground. The entrance door is 185cm leading to a lobby which has a lift to all floors – the doors of which are 80cm wide.
There are accessible toilets on the ground and first floors. The doors to these are 95cm wide. There is an emergency cord. The toilet height is 48cm high with 100cm access room to the right hand side. There are three vertical hand rails (one by the sink and two by the toilet). There are two horizontal rails by the toilet and one by the basin. The floors are blue and walls are cream. The floor is non-slip. The toilets are well lit with fluorescent tube overhead lighting with a low level light switch. The flooring is non-slip laminate. There are lever taps on the sinks.
They have a set of evacuation procedures – should you require it someone will assist you with evacuation either out of the building or to a refuge.
** – Travel – **
Located in the heart of Coventry, finding the Cathedral could not be easier! They are a 10-15 minute walk or 5 minute taxi ride from the railway station, and about 100 metres from the main Bus Station. The main entrance to the Cathedral can be found off Priory Street opposite Coventry University or via St Michael’s Avenue from the City Centre. For callers to the Cathedral Offices, please go to Youell House, 1 Hill Top.
** – Tower Climb – **
Climb the Cathedral Tower for the best view in Coventry! Open 7 days a week except during bell ringing sessions. The Cathedral Tower Climb costs £4, and £2 for U18’s. (Children are permitted to climb at their carer’s discretion and they do not recommend the climb for younger children due to the amount of steps (180) and the nature of the climb. No climbers under the age of 8 will be permitted).
The Tower will ordinarily be open from 10-4 Monday to Saturday, and 12-3 on Sunday but sometimes events in the Ruins or inclement weather conditions may mean reduced opening hours, so please check in advance by calling 02476 521248 if you are planning on making a special trip.
** – Blitz Museum – **
The Blitz Experience Museum is normally open from mid-February to early November but please check in advance if you are planning a special visit. In the Blitz Experience their volunteers tell the story of what Coventry was like before the Blitz and how the people of this extraordinary city coped with its aftermath. Only £1 per person, regardless of how big or small you are! Please note that the Blitz Museum is not open to visitors when in use by school groups – please check availability when booking.
Location : Coventry Cathedral, Priory Street, Coventry CV1 5FB
Transport: Coventry (National Rail) 13 minutes. Bus routes: 1, 8, 8A, 9, 9A, 9S, 10, 10A, 11, 11U, 12X, 20, 20A, 20B, 20C, Eurobus 05U and Sindbad 05 all stop close by.
Opening Times New Cathedral: Monday to Saturday 10:00 to 17:00; Sunday 12:00 to 16:00.
Opening Times Cathedral Ruins: Daily 9:00 to 17:00 (closed at dusk in the winter).
Events : For a full list of events and worship times please click here.
Tickets : Cathedral is free but donations are gratefully accepted.
Tickets : For the Tower Climb and Blitz Museum please see above.
Tel: 024 7652 1200