It was a dark night , whose stillness was suddenly broken with the sound of air-raid sirens. People dropped what they were doing and hurried to the safety of bomb shelters. Here they stayed, huddled together in fear, for eleven long hours of concentrated aerial bombardment. Here they stayed, wondering what would be left of the city they called home.
We've seen it on the news. We've read it in the papers. We've lived it in our hearts. But this was not today's news, although it could have been. The date was November 14, 1940, and the place was the city of Coventry in England.
It was a typical city where men and women lived and worked and where families grew up. It was a city with a proud heritage and history. It was also a city that manufactured munitions, and it was the city that Hitler chose to use as an example at the beginning of World War II.
When the people emerged from their bomb shelters the next day, they found their city had been devastated. The bombing had been so concentrated that water pipes had burst, so residents were unable to put out the fires that ravaged their city. Emergency vehicles could not make it through the streets because of the deep craters left by the bombs; and there were hundreds of dead and injured.
The city's beloved Cathedral had received a direct hit. The roof had caught fire and crashed into the nave of the church. The stained glass windows had been blown out. Walking through the ruins, a worker found a few roof timbers that had fallen in the shape of a cross. He lashed the two charred pieces of wood together, and the healing began.
A few days later, a Coventry priest picked up three of the large medieval roof nails from the rubble. He had them welded together and silver-plated in the form of a cross, which was presented to the Provost of the cathedral .
The Provost recognized that these crosses symbolized a new ministry for Coventry Cathedral--a ministry of forgiveness and reconciliation. Some weeks after the raid, the Provost delivered a message on the BBC. He spoke these words from the gutted shell of the once-grand cathedral. "We are trying, hard as it may be, to banish all thoughts of revenge. We are going to try to make a kinder, simpler, a more Christlike sort of world, in the days beyond this strife."
Thus began the rebuilding of a new cathedral, right next to the bombed-out ruins. I had the privilege of visiting Coventry Cathedral in 1991 as we were engaged in the Gulf War. What a powerful moment it was for me to stand in the archway between the bombed-out shell and the glorious new Cathedral. Standing in that archway, I knew that I was standing in that sacred space between Good Friday and Easter. The new cathedral, splendid in its magnificence and beauty, became a symbol of recovery and hope for the future, but only because it was connected by that archway to the death and destruction from which it has sprung.
Photo by Tornad, public domain.