From My Photo Album: Coventry Cathedral

I have promised you a post about our visit to Coventry in 2010, and finally, I have come around to it. I can say, having looked through my photos, that they are not on par with the memories I have from there, particularly the fabulous cathedral. It was the reason we went there, actually. I had just finished helping my mother-in-law with her memoirs, and part of it was about a trip she had made to England with her sisters, in the 70´s. She had vivid memories of a visit to the cathedral but couldn´t remember the name of it, just that it was near Shakespeare´s Stratford. It wasn´t hard to find, and I became rather eager to visit it myself.

We traveled to Coventry by train, and only a few steps out of the train station, this is what we found: an IKEA store. A big blue lego of a thing in the middle of this (to us) exotic English town. It was not my proudest moment as a Swede, I can tell you that. Still, I tried to convince my husband, who at that point had never (incredible, what?) entered an IKEA in his 48-year-old life, that it would be cool to loose his IKEA-virginity in a place like Coventry. He refused. No Swedish meatballs for us on this trip, haha!

Looking at a map of the town, you do get an idea of the structure of the medieval Coventry. This is in the heart of England, the Midlands, near Birmingham, and Coventry had a major automobile industry by the early 20th Century. It was the one English town that got hit hardest by the Luftwaffe during the Blitz. The Germans even invented a whole new method of destruction for this particular town, that they called "Coventrate". I suppose I shouldn´t call it a town, it´s the 9th largest city in England, but it feels more lika a town, I think.

Spon Street is the one little bit of street that still has some medieval buildings on it. We found a pub here, in a house dating from the 16th Century, where we had lunch and tried something called "faggots", which was a soft kind of meatball made of, well, a bit of everything, I think. I know there was liver in there. Can´t say it went down a success, most of it was left on the plate.

Usually, we are very fond of English cooking. I think the world is unfairly prejudiced against it, thinking it´s nothing but entrails, over-cooked vegetables, white beans on toast, and greasy chips. Yorkshire pudding with Sunday steak is great, and a classic Afternoon Tea is a great substitute for lunch and dinner if you had a late breakfast (a hearty one, a full English fry-up, perhaps?). I am also very partial to Cornish Pasties, Steak and Ale Pie, mushy peas, and I could go on and on, really. Vinegar-flavoured crips did take me about 30 years to warm up to, but I enjoy them now. With ale, of course.

Anyway, most of Coventry is modern and industrial looking. It still feels accessible and human-friendly in a way I didn´t feel that Birmingham was when I spent a few days there in 2009.

(Birmingham was interesting: I arrived by bus, passed through the city center on foot trying to reach my B&B, which on the map seemed perfectly within easy walking distance. Could not get out. Seriously. Birmingham is not the most easily navigated city for pedestrians having just arrived, I can tell you that! After having walked in circles for two hours, I was saved by a cabbie who drove me to my destination. It took me two whole days to decode Birmingham.)

I wonder if the most famous historical person in Coventry might not be lady Godiva, who lived in the 11th Century. I´m sure you have heard the legend, in one form or another, about the lady who rides naked through the city, after her husband has promised to lessen the heavy tax burden on the population if she dares to do it. Out of respect for her, everyone stayed indoors while she passed, except one fellow, a tailor by name of Tom. To punish him, God made him blind, and from him we have the expression "peeping Tom" for voyeurs.

 And here, a selection of pictures from the famous cathedral:

The old bombed out cathedral is now a sort of forecourt to the new, modern building. There are a number of artworks displayed there, mostly on the topic of peace.

Me as a tourist. Will never wear beige again. What was I thinking?

The modern cathedral was designed by Scottish modernist/brutalist(!) architect Basil Spence, who was knighted for his work. It has a very different feel to any other ecclesiastical building I have ever been in, but it feels really, really holy. It´s all concrete, brass, stone, and glass. It was difficult to take sharp photos in there, since the light was not great, but you can see a little bit of the etched angels dancing on the glass wall there.

This cross is part of the mythology of the Blitz, made from the rubble of the old cathedral.

The quality of the artwork is really stunning. This is a detail of a floor.

Our reflection in the angel glass wall.
St Michael defeating the Devil.

A few days later we met up with a friend (an Englishman) in Oxford, and he asked what we had done so far on our vacation. "Milton Keynes and Coventry", we said. His response was an honest "Why?". Not all Englishmen value their more modern treasures. And I suppose most tourists are after the kind of picturesque old-time England you see on "Midsumer Murders", "Downton Abbey", any Jane Austen-drama, and television like that. Well, we enjoy that too, but there´s a lot more to Britain! Much, much more to discover.

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