Coventry Cathedral Songs of Praise


Coventry Cathedral

Pam Rhodes celebrates fifty years of the architectural icon that is Coventry Cathedral, which was conceived during the darkest days of the Second World War.


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AIR-RAID SIREN WAILS

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The 14th of November 1940, is a date one city will never forget.

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That night, 568 people lost their lives and many more their homes.

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I'm standing in the centre of Coventry

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in a spire which is all that remains of a huge medieval cathedral

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destroyed during the Second World War

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in one devastating air raid

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that the perpetrators called "Moonlight Sonata".

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It was the spirit of our forefathers that built that grand building.

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I believe that that spirit is with us still

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and will help us to rebuild it one day

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when we have served and suffered a while...a little longer.

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And built again it was,

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to rise in glory 22 years after those words were spoken.

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Tonight, we celebrate the golden jubilee

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of the cathedral still known today as the new Coventry Cathedral.

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And we find out

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how a building conceived in the darkest days of the Second World War

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became an international symbol of peace and reconciliation.

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Over now to Richard Dimbleby at Coventry.

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There has been a Christian church dedicated to St Michael...

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50 years ago, on the 25th of May, 1962,

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the new cathedral of Coventry

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was consecrated in the presence of Her Majesty the Queen.

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Open the doors.

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75,000 people applied for tickets to be at the consecration

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because Coventry's story

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had caught the imagination of the whole country -

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in fact, the whole world.

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Now you will see the bishop going in procession

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down the nave of the cathedral to the crossing.

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At the crossing, he will trace, with his staff,

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the Greek letters already placed there in bronze,

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the letters, chi rho,

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the first and second letters of the word Cristeo Christus.

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We used to go to the cathedral regularly

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because my father was a chorister

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and we were told to stand very still

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and we mustn't smile or nod at Daddy because he was in the choir.

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They walked down with their books in front of them, very solemn,

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but as he got to us, he used to wink.

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On the night of the air raid, Betty was an evacuee,

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living 25 miles away in Fenny Compton.

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The whole sky was lit up.

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The dear old soul that we lodged with said,

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"ain't nobody going to be able to live in that."

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And went to bed!

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I was ten years old, so I obviously thought that I was an orphan -

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it was that bad.

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The next day, I did go

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and meet all the trains that came in to Fenny Compton station.

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On the last train, the station master said to me,

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"My dear, they won't come down."

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So I walked rather dejectedly, thinking,

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I don't know what quite's going to happen.

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On the way, I saw somebody with one of those little pencil torches

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and there was a man's voice and a child's voice

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and it was my father and our John, so I wasn't an orphan after all!

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From her father, Betty learned about the devastation of Coventry.

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Because my father was an assistant organist at the cathedral

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and also a member of the choir and a lovely bass, he was,

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he went up to the place where there had been his organ.

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There was nothing but a pile of rubble.

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He found a little bit of iron and picked it up and wept.

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Obviously, as Christians, you are taught that you don't take revenge,

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but I'm sure that the prevalent feeling,

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both in Coventry and other places, they wanted revenge.

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NEWSREEL: The cities of Great Britain salute their brothers

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in this hour of tribulation, but not defeat.

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"An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth."

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Dick Howard was the Provost of the bombed cathedral.

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He had a very different message from the newsreels.

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What we want to tell the world is this - we are trying,

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hard as it may be, to banish all thoughts of revenge...

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For anybody to start saying, "we must forgive"

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was just so alien at that time, because everything we did,

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everything we thought about was how to win the war.

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But that was his message

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and, of course, a lot of the peace work that the cathedral still does started with him.

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He was such a wonderful man.

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We're going to try and make a kinder, simpler,

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a more Christ-child like sort of world

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in the days beyond this strike.

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# Thou wilt keep him

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# In perfect peace

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# Whose mind is stayed

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# On Thee

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# The darkness is no darkness with Thee

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# But the night is as clear as the day

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# The darkness and

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# The light to thee

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# To thee

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# Are both alike

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# To thee

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# Are both alike

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# God is light

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# And in Him is like

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# God is light

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# There is no darkness at all

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# Oh, let my soul live

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# Oh, let my soul live

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# And it shall praise

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# For thine is the kingdom

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# The power and the glory

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# For thine is the kingdom

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# The power and the glory

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# Forever

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# And ever

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# Forever more

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# Thou wilt keep him

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# In perfect peace

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# Whose mind is stayed

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# Whose mind is stayed

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# On thee

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# Is stayed

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# On Thee. #

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Architect Sir Basil Spence was chosen to design the new cathedral

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from 200 entries in an international competition.

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The day at the consecration was a proud moment

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for Sir Basil's daughter, Gillian.

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Do you think that the cathedral itself

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is an expression of your father's own faith?

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Yes, I do think so, very strongly.

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I think he'd been through the war and everything,

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and he'd just felt that this was a time for rebuilding

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in every sense of the word. Rebuilding morally, spiritually.

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Of course it was replacing this wonderful medieval cathedral

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and yet the design was ultra-modern.

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What was the reaction to that?

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Well, it was very mixed and the problem was

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what they showed first were the cathedral competition drawings.

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Now, these are architect's drawings

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and they're very difficult to understand.

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Anthony Blee was Sir Basil's assistant. He believes that

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one of the architect's greatest achievements

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was to keep all of the old cathedral ruins as part of the new design

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and to link them through an ancient pedestrian right of way.

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By doing that, he almost encouraged people to enter the cathedral

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before they even knew they were there,

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because suddenly you're confronted by this great west screen in glass.

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Spiritually you enter the building at that point.

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So that was an act of genius, I think, to do that.

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The other remarkable thing was that the art is not applied afterwards

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as a bolt-on goodie, but an integral part

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of the concept of the design right from the start.

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And that's terribly important.

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John Piper's Baptistery window, the knave windows,

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the Sutherland tapestry, the Epstein sculpture of St Michael.

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But you two have another very special reason

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for being particularly fond of Coventry Cathedral, don't you?

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Yes, we do, yes, we do, because we were married there.

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-The cathedral wasn't finished.

-No.

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The walls were half built and it was a very cold, misty February day.

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And I had a lilac dress, long,

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which dragged across the mud and the puddles.

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But it was a consecrated chapel

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and we thought this would be the most wonderful place to be married.

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When your father saw the cathedral finished,

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was he happy with his work?

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I think he was very happy.

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It was very true to its time, that design,

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and that's why it is so strong, I think,

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because it radiates the faith and the power

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and the optimism of that age.

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People have described it as a kind of resurrection.

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Well, it was, it was a phoenix from the ashes.

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Literally from the ashes of the old cathedral.

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Over the last 50 years, Coventry Cathedral has developed

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an international reputation for its work towards peace.

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This has led to the creation of a unique role.

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David Porter is the current Canon Director for Reconciliation.

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So is reconciliation actually possible?

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I think some of the things people look on as reconciliation are very simplistic -

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if you do that and you do that and say this

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and relate in that way, then we're all reconciled.

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And I think sometimes that's just a load of tosh.

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I think reconciliation is a hard journey and even when we do

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get moments of reconciliation they can easily evaporate.

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If you are constantly working for peace,

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does that mean that you are a pacifist?

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No, I'm not a pacifist.

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I'm not far off it, but when you consider the injustices of our world

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and the bullies that there are who only understand a punch in the nose at times,

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I do accept that sometimes violence does need to be used

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to protect the defenceless.

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But I do think that when we do use violence

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we are actually committing sin.

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And therefore even after war, we don't come to God,

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thanking God for victory, we have to start by asking for forgiveness.

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Father, forgive.

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We have what is called the Coventry Litany of Reconciliation,

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which was written by Joseph Poole who was the first precentor

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for the new cathedral, incorporating Provost Howard's

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simple statement, "Father, forgive", which acknowledges that

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we're all responsible for the mess of our world.

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So much of what's remembered here at Coventry

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relates back to the Second World War.

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Now, many would say, that's 70 years ago, isn't it time to move on?

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At one level it is,

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but then the reconciliation that

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Coventry has had with Germany and has taken a lead in

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is the hope that we offer to the world,

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because if Germany and England can be reconciled,

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after what we did to each other from 1914 right through to 1945,

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then there is no conflict in our world today that can't be reconciled

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and that there isn't hope for.

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As an expression of the love, joy and peace...

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A very special statue was unveiled here at the cathedral recently,

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what does it represent?

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It is a gift from the Frauenkirche in Dresden

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and it is their gift to us to mark

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the 50th anniversary of the new cathedral of Coventry.

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And so we dedicated to civilian victims of aerial bombing,

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and especially the German civilians who died under allied bombing.

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For me, one of the signs of reconciliation is when

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we have the capacity to memorialise our enemy's sufferings.

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This is the first time we've actually done that

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on the site here of Coventry Cathedral.

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Three medieval nails,

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taken from the bombed ruins of the old cathedral,

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form the centrepiece of the new cathedral's high altar cross.

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This cross of nails has become

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the cathedral's international symbol of peace.

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Today, there are about 170 Cross of Nails communities around the world,

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an international network for peace.

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But the cathedral also acknowledges those who go to war on our behalf.

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Royal Navy warship HMS Diamond is affiliated to the city of Coventry.

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Last year, it was presented with a cross of nails by the cathedral.

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Ed Briggs is a serving lieutenant on the Diamond.

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I think it's very appropriate that we carry a cross on a warship

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as a reminder of that symbol of willing sacrifice

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and as a symbol of hope as well.

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People do often ask me about how I feel as a Christian,

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about being potentially asked to kill.

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There is no simple answer.

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But every time I'm asked,

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I'm forced to think through my reasons again

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and I'm reminded of my conviction

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that there are some things worth fighting for.

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The cliches, I do believe, are true -

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that evil will prevail while good men do nothing.

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Exactly 30 years ago, it was another warship, HMS Coventry,

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which carried the same cross of nails to the Falkland Islands.

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Commodore Jamie Miller was working as an interpreter on board.

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When we go into a war zone, we prepare the ship for action

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and we secure or put away loose articles

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that might cause damage if and when we get hit.

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The ship's company asked that the cross of nails

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was not put away in a safe cupboard

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but stayed out as a prominent symbol of hope, defiance, I suppose.

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Indeed, many passed it as they went to action stations for the last time.

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On 25th May 1982, HMS Coventry was attacked

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and sunk with the loss of 19 lives.

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Jamie Miller was one of the last to be rescued.

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That cross of nails was something I had passed every day

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when I girded myself for the next action or next watch.

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And it did sustain me, something tangible, and now here it is again,

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on a frontline warship, an incredible ship, HMS Diamond.

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I'm so glad it's still with us, it's still sustaining a new generation.

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Let thine eyes be opened towards this house.

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Day and night, hallow this building.

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Heavenly Father, thank you for our Golden Jubilee

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and for 50 years of proclaiming the forgiveness of Christ.

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May the love of the Father continue to draw us to Himself.

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# Laudate dominum

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# Omnes gentes

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# Laudate eum

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# Omnes populi

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# Quoninam confirmata est

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# Super nos misere cordia ejus

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# Et veritus, veritus Domini

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# Manet, manet in aeternum

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# Gloria Patri et Filio

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# Et Spiritui Sancto

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# Sicut erat in principio

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# Et nunc, et semper

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# Et in saecula saeculorum

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# Amen

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# Amen

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# Amen

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# Amen. #

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And the blessing of God Almighty, the Father,

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the Son and the Holy Spirit be with us all evermore.

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-Amen.

-Amen.

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It would be easy to think that Coventry Cathedral

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is defined by that fateful night during the Second World War.

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But, of course, there'd been Christian worship on this site

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for centuries before that and hopefully, for many years to come.

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We are going to finish with a well known hymn

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in which the second verse has been given new words

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by the Canon Presenter of Coventry Cathedral, David Stone.

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Not just to mark this 50th birthday, but the cathedral's unique mission

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for peace and reconciliation around the world.

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Next week, on Father's Day, Aled will be thinking about

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what it takes to make a great dad.

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There'll be marvellous music to mark the occasion,

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and you never know, he might even get to put his feet up!

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Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

0:33:570:34:00

Pam Rhodes celebrates fifty years of the architectural icon that is Coventry Cathedral, and asks how a building conceived in the darkest days of the Second World War has become internationally renowned for peace and reconciliation.


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