Coventry Cathedral: Art and Architecture in Post-War Britain

By McClain, Frank M. | Anglican Theological Review, Summer 1998 | Go to article overview

Coventry Cathedral: Art and Architecture in Post-War Britain


McClain, Frank M., Anglican Theological Review


Coventry Cathedral: Art and Architecture in Post-War Britain. By Louis,e Campbell. Clarendon Studies in the History of Art. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996. xviii + 287 pp. $140.00 (cloth).

Louise Campbell's study is a masterful retelling of the rebuilding of Coventry Cathedral. Her book contains a wealth of photographs and drawings. There is an elegantly presented text, carefully researched and documented. This is a beautiful work but its place is not on a coffee table. It should be reuired reading for anyone involved in the planning of an important civic structure. The intricate (Byzantine?) relationship between Church and State, the clash of traditional and contemporary theological and liturgical points l)f view, questions of aesthetic taste all are explored.

Coventry Cathedral is probably the best-known and best-loved religious building of the twentieth century. It was to be a memorial to those who had fallen during the war, a symbol of reconciliation, a statement of the resurgence of a vital industrial city and of a Britain arising phoenix-like from the ashes of the Blitz. The cathedral, in spite of its champions, has not been without its detractors. Popular and greatly beloved by overseas visitors to Britain, critics nearer to home have often expressed mixed feelings. It has even been judged the "worst setback to English architecture for a very long time."

As if continuing the fires of the night of its destruction, flames of controversy surrounded the structure from the first decision to rebuild. Was it to be a replica of the old cathedral? Was it to be traditional in character or was it to be influenced by the contemporary liturgical movement? The City Council was set against the Cathedral Council, the Bishop against the Provost. T]le Clergy were divided among themselves. Architects and artists could not come to an agreement. It is remarkable that the project was able to be brought to a conclusion at all.

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