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Warwickshire, Coventry, Priory Street, Cathedral Of St Michael

Cathedral (20th Century), War Memorial (Period Unassigned)

Site Name Warwickshire, Coventry, Priory Street, Cathedral Of St Michael

Classification Cathedral (20th Century), War Memorial (Period Unassigned)

Alternative Name(s) Coventry Cathedral; New Coventry Cathedral; The Cathedral Church Of St Michael

Canmore ID 284699

Site Number SP37NW 2

NGR SP 3363 7906

NGR Description Centred on SP 3363 7906

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
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Administrative Areas

  • Council Not Applicable
  • Parish Not Applicable
  • Former Region Not Applicable
  • Former District Not Applicable
  • Former County Not Applicable

Sir Basil Spence

Building Notes

The old cathedral in the historic centre of Coventry was destroyed during an air raid in the Second World War. In 1951 Basil Spence was chosen from over 200 architects who had entered a competition to design a new cathedral to replace it. Building commenced in 1955 with John Laing & Son Ltd as the main building contractors. By the time the new cathedral was completed in 1962 it had become an international symbol of regeneration.

Spence chose to keep the ruins of the old cathedral intact 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.

Archive Details

The wealth of material on Coventry Cathedral in the Sir Basil Spence Archive includes drawings showing all the design stages from Spence's first sketches and competition drawings to working drawings of every part of the building. Photographs document building construction and show individual artists and craftsmen at work.

Correspondence with contractors and artists reveals how problems were resolved along the way, and public reaction can be gauged through contemporary newscuttings. Spence was clearly proud of the unique nature of the building. One letter shows him confirming with the Guinness Book of Records that the tapestry was indeed the largest in the world.

There are also fragments of a model in the Archive that was used for publicity and fundraising. The model was made in 1953 but largely destroyed in transit from an exhibition in Brussels in 1958.

Archive Summary

The Sir Basil Spence Archive holds over 600 manuscript folders, over 3,700 drawings, 642 photographs, and five models relating to the Cathedral. Other archives holding material on the cathedral include: the British Architectural Library; the Central Council for the Care of Churches; the City Record Office, Coventry; Coventry Cathedral Archives; the Herbert Art Gallery; and the Public Record Office. RCAHMS also holds unsuccessful entries to the Coventry Cathedral competition by Leslie Grahame Thomson MacDougall and G A H Pearce.

This text was written as one of the outputs of the Sir Basil Spence Archive Project, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, 2005-08.

Architecture Notes

English Heritage pastscape reference SP37NW 46


Project (February 2014 - July 2014)

A data upgrade project to record war memorials.


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