Coventry Cathedral is one of those rare examples of successful Modernism, whose appeal transcends architectural fashion. Like another successful example – the Barbican Estate – it rose from the devastation of the German Luftwaffe, and now overlooks its previous incarnation, a crumbling, unrestored symbol of 20th Century cataclysm.
As a result of this traumatic history, the focus of the cathedral is "world peace"; it has its International Center for Reconciliation; its Cross of Nails talisman. Just inside the entrance, when I visited, was a travelling exhibition by the Forgiveness Project displaying stories of forgiveness in spite of horrific personal tragedy. These were deeply moving and compelling. But whereas the exhibition’s presence was intended, surely, to imply that forgiveness has a particularly Christian warrant, in keeping with Anglican sheepishness nothing of the sort was claimed. God forbid!
In contrast, leaflets were on offer to promote Interfaith Week – featuring the indispensable Spiritualists and Bahá'ís (who seem to exist primarily in order to attend such events), orientated in particular to a "Discover Islam" exhibition, and replete with reminders to "bring something to cover your head."
As with many good intentions of postwar compassion and goodwill, the clear modernity of Coventry cathedral has drifted over the decades into the opaque waters of postmodernity, and adopted that self-negating instinct – in the words of G K Chesterton – to praise every creed except its own. As a thought experiment, you might ask yourself what kind of, ahem, place of worship would be built next to its ruins if a bomb was to fall on it again, today...
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