Rising out of Ruins Left by Hitler and Henry VIII; Coventry Cathedral 1962 - 2002

Coventry Evening Telegraph (England), May 25, 2002 | Go to article overview
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Rising out of Ruins Left by Hitler and Henry VIII; Coventry Cathedral 1962 - 2002


Byline: BARBARA GOULDEN

NOT many people realise that when architect Basil Spence designed Coventry's third great cathedral he linked it not only to the old cathedral ruins but also to the city's first Benedictine priory cathedral established in 1102 and rebuilt in the thirteenth century.

Today anyone who visits Benedict's restaurant, built into the side of the 20th century cathedral, will find the remains of the priory's east wall outside the door.

Most of the rest of its medieval foundations disappear beneath nearby houses only to reappear again at the west end in Priory Gardens, 425 feet away.

Excavations carried out on the site of the Benedictine priory cathedral of St Mary have revealed a wealth of information about the past 1,000 years.

Today it is easy to see from the exposed foundations how that first Norman cathedral would have swamped the richly-endowed Saxon abbey founded in 1043 by Lady Godiva and her husband Leofric, Earl of Mercia.

So far, only the west end of Coventry's first cathedral has been thoroughly excavated. The rest of the massive foundations run beneath listed church houses in Priory Row and right up to the edge of today's modern cathedral.

There seems little doubt that stone from Godiva's abbey would have been incorporated into the east end of this huge edifice, which continued growing right up to the 14th century.

Amazingly, part of an even earlier wall - circa 700 or 800 - has been unearthed below the west end.

Could this wall be the remains of the nunnery founded by eighth century nun St Osburg and sacked by the Danes in 1016?

This is a puzzle with no ready solution. The wall's exact position was recorded, then it was covered over again.

But the 11th to 14th century remains and the section of cloister floor on show at the Priory Gardens Visitors' Centre off Trinity Street are impressive enough.

And the wealth of finds made by city archaeologist Margaret Rylatt - who came out of retirement to lead a dig - had Channel 4's Time Team bubbling with excitement.

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