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Sir Basil Spence Archive Project

Coventry Cathedral. Interior perspective from south down nave towards chancel, high altar, Lady Capel and tapestry, 1951. SC792274

COVENTRY CATHEDRAL

// COVENTRY, ENGLAND

Sir Basil Spence is most famously associated with his modern design for the rebuilding of Coventry Cathedral following its destruction by bombing during the Second World War. Building commenced for his competition-winning programme in 1955, and by the time the new cathedral was consecrated in 1962 it had become an international symbol of regeneration and reconciliation.

The old cathedral in the historic centre of Coventry was destroyed during an air raid in the Second World War. In 1951 Spence was chosen from over 200 architects who had entered a competition to design a new cathedral to replace it.

“I saw the old cathedral as standing clearly for the sacrifice, one side of the Christian Faith and I knew my task was to design a new one which should stand for the Triumph of the Resurrection”

- Sir Basil Spence in his book, 'Phoenix at Coventry'

Spence chose to keep the ruins of the old cathedral intact – the only competition entrant to do so - and link them to the new cathedral with a high porch.

The main body of the new building is constructed of red sandstone. Projecting out are the circular Chapel of Unity and the Chapel of Industry. Zigzag walls let angled windows direct light down the nave towards the altar. Large artworks commissioned by Spence include the baptistery window stained glass by John Piper and Patrick Reyntiens, a bronze sculpture of St Michael by Jacob Epstein, and the tapestry behind the main altar by Graham Sutherland.

Spence wrote a book entitled ‘Phoenix at Coventry’ on his experience as architect of the cathedral that brought him worldwide fame.

Images

  • Interior view of baptistery, font and window, 1962. SC1029710
  • View from south east showing baptistery and nave windows, 1961. SC1029530
  • St Michael and the Devil by Sir Jacob Epstein, and cathedral porch from east, 1962. SC1029630
  • Oblique aerial view from south, showing construction site. DP004583
  • Interior perspective towards chancel, high altar, Lady Chapel and tapestry, 1951. SC792274
  • View of ruined interior from west, 1940. SC1029513
  • Sketch perspective of cathedral from south east, 1951. DP008004
  • Perspective from south west, 1952. DP018492

Podcast

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Members of the Spence family talk about Spence's involvement with Coventry Cathedral.
(running time 12:20)   

Crown Copyright © RCAHMS 2014