January 9: Coventry, Rachael

January 9, 2018

By Rachael Demaree, senior soprano
Today the Chamber Choir spent the better part of the day in Coventry, a city that was almost entirely destroyed by the German air force during the 14 November 1940 “Blitz”. Coventry was targeted by the Nazis because it was (and still is) a manufacturing hub for all of England. Along with many of the city’s houses and factories, Coventry Cathedral was destroyed by incendiary bombs and explosives. The wooden roof lit on fire quickly, and the metal slats used to reinforce the roof twisted and fell thanks to the heat, bringing down the entire inside of the building. Only the outer wall and, remarkably, the cathedral spire (the third tallest in the country) remained. The people of Coventry left the ruins of the Cathedral standing to serve as a reminder of the horrors of war and a symbol of the power of reconciliation.
Reconciliation is one of the words we heard over and over again today. Despite the human inclination to anger and bitterness when faced with large-scale destruction, the leaders of the new Cathedral made the ministry of reconciliation their primary focus. Much of the physical building itself celebrates this idea, since countries from around the world donated sculptures and construction materials to the Cathedral. And, the Cathedral is also committed to building a sense of community among different nations, organizations, and faith systems in a way that is truly remarkable in light of the city’s tremendous losses.
The new Cathedral is awe-inspiring—perhaps one of the most purposeful spaces I’ve ever been in. I highly recommend Googling pictures of the tennis-court-sized tapestry (the largest in the world), the abstract yet stunning stained glass panels, the ghostly etched glass panel which connects the old ruins and the new worship space, and the numerous artworks which are placed throughout the building. We had to adjust our performance program slightly thanks to the noise of construction being done on one of the chapels, but several of the choir members said it was our best concert yet and that they “wanted to live here forever!”
After a delicious meal at a Pizza Express in Coventry, we returned to our hotel in Stratford-Upon-Avon for the night. As I type this, I’m reflecting that today was the first day that felt like we had true “British” weather: it drizzled steadily and was gray and overcast throughout the day. I didn’t mind it, though. The rain cast a somber and reflective atmosphere over the choir as we explored the old Cathedral ruins. The nearly-white sky cast the etchings of the entranceway windows in sharp relief as our singing echoed in the rafters. And, the clouds’ weight echoed the historical significance, spiritual impact, and visionary stance of the beautiful place and the brave people the choir got to visit in Coventry.