Coventry Cathedral: Art and Architecture in Post-War Britain

By Louise Campbell | Go to book overview

13
The Cathedral and the Post-War World: Austerity and Triumphalism

ON completion, Coventry Cathedral was considered to be one of the great projects of post-war Europe. Surveys of the new churches of Europe written by French and American critics during the 1960s compared Coventry with the church at Assy, with the chapel at Ronchamp, with St Anna at Düren and the new churches in the diocese of Cologne.1 But the effect of such comparisons, however valuable, tended to distance the cathedral from its native architectural context--a context which differed markedly from that in which the new churches of Europe were produced. Nor did British writers on twentieth- century church designs help to provide a context for the Coventry design.2 Peter Hammond's book made no mention of the Anglican cathedrals at Liverpool and at Guildford, no doubt considering them to be architecturally and liturgically retrogressive. However, the construction of substantial parts of both cathedrals--seriously delayed by the war and by the subsequent inflation in building costs--overlapped with that of Coventry.3 In Liverpool, heavily bombed in 1940-1, the project was, as at Coventry, explicitly linked with the future of both the city and the nation.4 Writing in 1960, Hammond ignored the role played by such building projects in the post-war imagination.5 His neglect of both the precursors and the symbolic dimensions of the Coventry Cathedral project helped to narrow and impoverish the terms in which the completed cathedral was later discussed.

____________________
1
G. E. Kidder Smith, The New Churches of Europe ( London, 1964); S. Bottari, Splendeur de l'art chrétien ( Lausanne, 1963).
2
Edward Mills's book was essentially a practitioner's handbook. His British examples, apart from Coventry Cathedral, consisted of modest parish churches built to a limited budget. Among French examples are Ronchamp, Assy, Audincourt, and Vence, but only one German church is included--a village church at Ubach-Palenberg.
3
Building work at Guildford Cathedral began in 1936; work was suspended 1939-51; the nave was completed and cathedral consecrated in May 1961. Building work began at Liverpool Cathedral in 1904; the Lady Chapel, chapter house, eastern transepts, and chancel were consecrated in 1924; chancel windows and south-east transept damaged by bombing in May 1941; ceremonial unveiling of central space in July 1941; stonework of tower completed in Feb. 1942; Rankin porch opened by Princess Elizabeth Mar. 1949; Scott died 1960; first bay of nave and Dulverton bridge completed in Apr. 1961; cathedral completed in October 1978.
4
'This Cathedral is a standing proof that we of this generation do not lack the power to achieve greatness. Within these walls we may take fresh courage as we face colossal tasks of other kinds crowding in on us now--tasks of rebuilding the national life of our country and the broken life of the world.' Bishop David of Liverpool, 27 Mar. 1949, quoted in P. Kennerley, The Building of Liverpool Cathedral ( Liverpool, 1991), 158.
5
He judges the church of St Julien at Caen, Notre-Dame at Royan ( 1949-59), and St Joseph at Le Havre ( 1950-9) to be aesthetically exciting but liturgically impractical; the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in Berlin, then under construction, is not mentioned.

-243-

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Coventry Cathedral: Art and Architecture in Post-War Britain
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS v
  • Contents vii
  • List of Color Plates ix
  • LIST OF BLACK AND WHITE PLATES xi
  • Abbreviations xix
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I. Architecture and Politics 5
  • 1 The Cathedral and the City: The Blitz, Civic Ideology And Reconstruction 7
  • 2 The Cathedral Project 1940-1947 22
  • 3 'towards a New Cathedral'? 37
  • Part II. The Creative Process 69
  • 4 Modernism and Tradition: The Genesis of Spence's Competition Design 71
  • 5 The Competition Design Refined, 1951-1954 81
  • 6 The Architect and the Artist 102
  • Part III. Design into Building 131
  • 7 The Licence to Build, 1954 133
  • 8 The Turning-Point, 1954-1956 141
  • 9 The Design Recast, 1956-1958 148
  • Pa IV. For and Function 193
  • 10 The Modern Church 195
  • 11 Provost and Architect 206
  • 12 The Cathedral Completed, 1960-1962 216
  • 13 The Cathedral and the Post-War World: Austerity and Triumphalism 243
  • Conclusion 254
  • APPENDIX: DONATIONS 276
  • Bibliography 278
  • Index 283
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