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Coventry Cathedral, 1962: Redeeming the Scar into Modernity

La cathédrale de Coventry, 1962 : La cicatrice rachetée par la modernité
Michel Morel
p. 123-138


Dans ses plus grandes réussites, l’architecture est toute équilibration; cela encore plus dans le cas de la cathédrale de Coventry où les ruines de l’ancien sanctuaire ont littéralement été intégrées dans la construction moderne datant de 1962. Contrairement à l’Église du Souvenir à Berlin, où trois nouveaux édifices ont été juxtaposés de façon séparée à l’ancienne église, à Coventry les fragments gothiques ont été soudés à la nouvelle cathédrale, l’emploi du grès Hollington apportant un élément supplémentaire de continuité. La cathédrale de Spence est un condensé de modernité où se rencontrent entre autres Epstein, Sutherland et Britten dont le Requiem de guerre fut créé en ces lieux quelques jours après la consécration. La liaison entre les deux cathédrales relève donc de l’oxymore, parfaite incarnation d’une tradition qui, selon Burke et T. S. Eliot, n’abandonne rien en route. Un tel dispositif architectural transforme la cicatrice du Blitz en un acte prolongé de ressouvenir artistique, l’équilibre de l’ensemble dépendant d’une fragile mais héroïque conjonction au travers de laquelle les ruines survivent, et le bâtiment contemporain semble faire retour à l’héritage historique qui l’a rendu possible.

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1The philosophical and aesthetic status of ruins is not as self-evident as might appear. The remarkable achievement of Basil Spence’s 1962 Coventry cathedral may help us to clarify this central point. Much has been written about ruins as memento mori and vanities in the Romantic line of interpretation initiating with Chateaubriand’s french Génie du Christianisme and Diderot’s reflexions in Salon 1767.1 Chateaubriand in particular seminally opposes two types of ruins, those caused by the ravages of time on one hand, and those resulting from the ravages of man on the other.2 My aim is to take advantage of the paradigmatic value of Basil Spence’s illuminating intuition to interrogate this easy and apparently satisfactory surface categorisation, and lay bare the thanatorial element common to both types in their supposed differences. What I propose here is an exercise in both architectural meditation and language remotivation, laying bare what the consensual cult of ruins conceals and in fact represses.


2Ruins, particularly those from remote times, are usually endowed with a picturesque quality which nearly negates their intrinsically dramatic component. The remnants of Fountains Abbey, for instance, are framed by Studley Royal Park which negotiates, from far to near or conversely, varied ‘picturesque’ vedute on the abbey.3 This seems to confirm Chateaubriand’s claim that the fascination for ruins is nearly universal.4 Such pacified use of architectural relics is amply documented in numerous texts5 which after Diderot interpret ruins in terms of the ephemeral in life and civilisations, of the melancholy their spectacle triggers in us along with a bitter sweet enjoyment possibly related to Burke’s sublime. Contemplating ruins may easily lead one to indulge the slightly morose meditation Shelley’s ‘Naught may endure but mutability’ adumbrates.6 The embellishment along with the effacement of the terror Burke speaks of is quite visible in Turner’s 1794 watercolour Tintern Abbey, the transept.7 The ruined nave with sporadic growths on the few remaining arches is sombrely silhouetted against a pale blue and yellow sunset sky. The discreet sense of loss raised by the picture will be echoed, on the positive side, a few years later by the ‘tranquil restoration’ in Wordsworth’s ‘Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey on Revisiting the Banks of the Wye during a Tour, July 13, 1798’. As to Friedrich’s compositions, they embody the darker side of Romanticism. The Abbey in an Oakwood8 (from 1809/1810) shows a hardly visible funeral procession progressing towards a ruined church porch, the lower part of the picture being plunged in brown darkness, the higher reaches of the ruins and the twisted leafless boughs around them sketched out against a pale yellowish sky at the last dusky moment of the day. Its prevailing mood might seem to take us back to the threat inherent in Burke’s sublime, if beautifying did not finally prevail. Such rendering only adds a supplementary frisson that actually erases a little more the death component in the whole picture. A trace of the terror Burke speaks of can certainly be found in the subliminal pathos one experiences at ideating the fall—the word ‘ruin’ comes from ruere (to tumble down)—of heroic greatness. In the same years, and closer to this field of investigation, Hubert Robert, or the ‘Robert des ruines’ as he was nicknamed in Rome where he spent eleven years, explores similar borderline effects in a hypothetical territory which later science-fiction was abundantly to make use of, for instance J. G. Ballard in The Drowned World (1962). Robert’s french Vue imaginaire de la Grande Galerie du Louvre en ruines9 (1796) is a capriccio on the border of transgression and speculative violence. The same light effects in it as in Turner’s contemporary picture, the same branchy growths against the sky, now play up to the radical concept of violating art’s temple. One can hardly refrain from shuddering at the tempting idea of a ruination wreaked by nature or time. Victor Hugo exploits a parallel field, but in a more historical perspective, with a fantasia about a double tower in Brittany in La Tourgue from 1835,10 in actual fact the Mélusine tower in the outer rampart of the Château de Fougères. The sombre ink composition shows a dilapidated eighteenth century architectural addition tacked against a decayed medieval dungeon like pile. He was later to use this theme and image as an emblem of the shock between past and present in Quatrevingt-treize (the author’s spelling), a novel published in 1874.

3All in all, in this rather consensual first version, ruins are seen as incentives and catalysts. The tragedy of human demise is all but absent in them. Their spectacle generates both nostalgia of the Arcadian type and melancholy. Such aesthetic elevation, with its attendant sublimation, may be said to erase and repress the fear or terror inherent in the idea of human termination and dissolution, even when they at the same time play with a sadistic element as Hubert Robert’s composition illustrates; a way of indirectly confirming that ruins, in their very essence, exhibit the concrete stigmata of death. In reality, only the second type of ruins—the havoc wreaked by man, to return to Chateaubriand’s categories—, allows one to foreground the hidden nature of such embargo on the intolerable.


4The term ‘wound’, both in its passive and active meanings, forces one to imagine the continued festering and aching of a pain inflicted on a body, be it concrete or abstract. In this regard, Daniel Libeskind’s architectural rendition of modern war in Manchester Imperial War Museum North11 immediately comes to mind because the three part layout of the building is a graphic enactment of war’s lethal drive. Its ‘shard’ structure embodies the world splintered into three shattered fragments which body forth the breakages resulting from combat in the air (the vertical shard), on water and earth (the other two constituents), a sour interpretation of war as ruin-maker on the grand scale. It visually forces one to return to the gruelling impact of new-laid ruins, prior to the attenuation brought by the passing of time. A way of reminding one that ruins cannot really be understood if they do not retain or express the violence of a catastrophic present. The perfect example for us contemporaries could be Alex Fuchs’s bluish photograph of three radiating pivotal splinters on Ground Zero12 in the hours following the World Trade Center tragedy of 2001. Discovering those unmistakable stumps and scrag ends makes us instantly relive the stunned shock of the unimaginable with the revived memory of a primitive spasm beyond which there was no going. Each time we chance upon such pictures, the wound is opened again along with the pain which throbbed and still throbs through our brain. This is destruction in itself, the sense of annihilation experienced again and again at the spectacle of ‘fragments’ (to use T. S. Eliot’s terms) that we cannot ‘shore against’ anything.13 In the same way, the photograph of the ruins of Coventry cathedral in the days after the bombing14 forces us into the horror of temporal blind-alley, a terminal moment retrospectively charged with the devastating weight of the countless victims of Nazism. Here can the very punctum of ruins be actually intuited. The photograph makes it impossible for the sensitive spectator ever to obliterate the concrete sting of actual death. The smoke-like fog that bathes the piled up remnants of a gracious building could seem to make one experience the very point in time when war savaging had just fallen on the city.

5This is what the poetics of ruins represses, the continued presence of death and the ‘raging against the dark’ it fosters in one. Turning the spectacle of ruins into aesthetics is a manifestation of the same benumbed insentience which makes us contemplate Lucy’s cranium in a detached way, in comparison to the horror experienced at the spectacle of the Tollund man and the arrested decay of his mummified body, an experience Seamus Heaney conjures up so feelingly and so woundingly (Heaney 64, 115).15 The problem is that we keep obfuscating the knowledge of what ruins intrinsically tell us; we are educationally inured to their trenchant truth. All our culture, from voyeuristic tourism to high studies, coerces us into this forgetting, by-passing the imprint of our fragility. Ruins, whichever, are nothing more but ruins, the pathetically subsisting traces of moments of life cut short, individual lives, or whole civilisations: a traumatic experience well caught, if crudely, in the final images of Planet of the Apes (1968) displaying a charred upper third of the Statue of Liberty jutting out from the sands and rocks on the shore line. One might also think, in the related domain of cataclysms, of Pompeii’s victims whose cast bodies make us as it were feel the actual moment of their very death. In reality, the difference established by Chateaubriand and lived upon ever since, only relates to the effect of ruins on us, to two levels in our responses as spectators, the aesthetic partly masking and cancelling out the thrill of the affective. In themselves, ruins are simply and solely the token of death and impending annihilation.


  • 16 ‘The existing order is complete before the new work arrives; for order to persist after the superve (...)

6A major crux for post-Second World War architects was how to conciliate the memory of a traumatic past and the promises of future life, in particular how to treat ruined buildings in terms of architectural reclaiming, for instance in the case of bombed churches. Neither opting for complete reconstruction nor for replacement, the three cases of Berlin, Hamburg and Coventry—all united in the Cross of Nails community that originated in Coventry—, suggest a common modus operandi, the supervention of past by present (Eliot 23).16

7The strategy adopted in the first two (Berlin and Hamburg) can justifiably be called dualistic. In both cases specific ruins were salvaged and the modern construction juxtaposed to, or separated from them. In Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church,17 Egon Eiermann chose to place the octagonal new church and the hexagonal tower—in actual fact, three new buildings: the church, a foyer and a tower—on each side of an exploded spire left exposed in its wrecked dereliction. The contrast and mutual challenge between the two is deliberate: the international style of the tower is an affirmation of willed dissimilarity, the use of steel and glass (the Chartres blue),18 clashing with the traditional materials literally exposed in the spire. Triumphant modernity is here proclaimed as the fit answer to the ruthless gutting frenzy of war, an answer not unlike a cultural lex talionis; the revenge of history.

8In Hamburg’s Sanct Nikolai19 the local authorities chose to have most of the standing walls of George Gilbert Scott’s Neo-Gothic nave destroyed, though they could have been restored. The tower was kept as a memorial more than as a living relic. Moreover, the replacement church was built in another part of the city.20 The few keepsake-like remnants of the former nave have lost their gothic upward lift, being sheathed and encased in a concrete kind of lintel that makes the whole look rigid, strict and orderly. The past is thus cordoned by the present, the 1998 glass pyramid seeming to puncture the former.21 Contrary to Berlin where the mutilated spire stands in counter-balance to the smooth international style new tower, the ruin as wound has almost disappeared. The added allegorical bronze statue by Edith Breckwoldt (2003), the Angel of Earth, shows a swirl of raised hands emerging from a lower part shaped by the remnant of a broken pillar, on the left of the former nave. But its placing and presence seem less convincing than the fully integrated ‘Saint Michael’s Victory over the Devil’ by Jacob Epstein, standing guard on the right side of the entrance to Basil Spence’s cathedral.

9In both Berlin and Hamburg the past only survives as a testimony to the ruthlessness of war (especially in Berlin). The remnants of the older church are either hemmed in or kept separate by the modern intervention. The architectural gesture aims at something like allegory, an allegory restricted, as the figure usually is, to an abstract interpretation that may shock as in Berlin but does not touch as in Coventry.

Architectural Oxymoron

10The architectural map of Coventry’s old and new cathedrals evidences Basil Spence’s metaphoric use of space.22 The ruling idea was not only to bring the old and the new together, but to articulate one into the other. In opposition to the clashing disparity fixed on in Berlin, the two cathedrals thus form one single building. And yet Basil Spence’s innovative shapes and forms could not be more different from the Gothic poise of the nearly completely destroyed older cathedral. On one side the lace-like delicacy of a school of architecture at the peak of its refinement; on the other, a sort of return to the massiveness of the former Romanesque, in an affirmative stance that belongs in reality to the ‘brutalist’ trend predominating in England and elsewhere from the fifties to the early seventies of the twentieth century; for instance in the National Theatre (1976–77) on the banks of the Thames in London, and in so many other constructions of the period. Yet a simple comparison between the modulated linkage from the older to the newer buildings and the massive gantries and porticoes favoured at the time, as in the nearly contemporary Tricorn Centre in Portsmouth,23 clearly shows the subtlety of the architect’s accomplishment. His main care was to revere and expand, in opposition to many of the other two hundred entries to the 1950 competition; for instance, the ponderous masses in Giles Gilbert Scott 1942 idea of a massive Neo-Gothic nave incorporating the derelict apse on its right flank,24 or the brutally straddling modernistic contraption devised by Alison and Peter Smithson,25 both projects effectively consummating the Blitz’s wrecking of the former building. One may here again quote the architect’s words: ‘When an historic building is to be extended it is a trained instinct to be kind to the old structure, not to destroy its voice, to encourage growth and not to wipe out and start again’ (10).

11The creative finesse of the bonding by Spence of the left of the older choir to the right-angled new cathedral immediately draws our attention: no separation here between old and new; on the contrary, the avoidance of any structural non sequitur. And the choice of the original Hollington sandstone for the contemporary building—the architectural programme only mentioned the possibility of using good sandstone similar to the former one—reinforced the discreet continuity from the older to the newer architectural orders.26 In the first chapter of Phoenix at Coventry one word keeps coming back in reference to the different architectural styles in cathedrals like those at Gloucester, Canterbury and Ely: unity, the unity of a kind of ‘organic growth’ (9). Spence affirms that ‘the whole character of our churches in the past has depended on integrity and a sense of adventure from which sprang our native architecture . . . ’ (9), that ‘ . . . the true traditionalists are people who think simply in their own era’ (10), and that ‘ . . . architecture should grow out of the conditions of the time’ (8). His central and key intuition, in opposition to the separative strategies adopted in Berlin and Hamburg, may consequently be said to rest on the illuminating idea that the two building should be brought into, and kept in contact, that there should be a physical point in space where the two styles cross over into each other and are made to cohere dynamically in a reciprocal translocation. The literal imping of the modern construction on the fragments of the struck down edifice becomes the crucial means for a transference of past into present and present into past. Indeed, the new cathedral may seem to the spectator to have been born out of the older one. To quote Basil Spence: ‘I had determined to keep practically the whole old cathedral, the new one growing out of it and being incomplete without it’ (Spense 11; my italics). Conversely the sturdiness of the modern construction, ‘strongly influenced by the cathedral of Albi’ (11),27 sustains and maintains the ruined former one, as a scion would her or his older parent. The strange correspondence would not have been so successful had it not been for the staunch individuality of the newer sanctuary, which also negotiates a discreet equivalence by means of the baptistery wall of light, an indirect repeat of the Perpendicular east glass wall at Gloucester, and more generally a mutated rendering of the Gothic age rose windows.

  • 28 ‘We moved to the North and looked out through the glassless tracery over the ground reserved for th (...)

12A subtle exchange between equivalences and oppositions is consequently fostered in a nexus of complex relationships. Thus conceived the porch is the seat of an exchange, a key participant in the ‘rhythmic consistency’ (10) sought by Spence. The architectural bonding it embodies is literally oxymoronic since it proposes an impassable contradiction clinching together discordant parts into a union which both seem perfectly motivated and mind-arresting. In Basil Spence’s words: ‘The old cathedral, with its lace-like walls and delicate enclosure would contrast greatly with the new building, which was bound to look solid, even from the south. Aesthetically, the Porch should soften this contrast and be a true buffer between the two architectural characters . . . ’ (92). An oxymoron, in its linguistic form, is energized by an inbuilt semantic tension paradoxically foregrounding the essence of each component, bared through its very contradistinction with the other. Etymologically, the term means ‘pointedly foolish’ (Chambers); in other words, such a figure makes one attain the most risky reaches of human thinking. The point where the two buildings are thus welded together duly start off a chain of differences in correspondences. The core intuition and vision28 of the architect is here literally concretized. It has become our vision, the revelation of a conflicted equivalence between ruin and novelty indirectly supported and legitimized by another latent common facet, Gothic architecture being, according to Viollet-le-Duc, the incarnation of the spirit of modernity (Viollet-le-Duc 50–115). The older and the newer types of modernity relay each other, rendering the calamitous destruction even more doleful and the redeeming construction pithier. The linkage shows and heals a scar embodying all the scars of all wars. Here is felt, never-endingly, the pain that human beings keep inflicting on one another, alongside with the solidarity born of a shared dereliction and, hopefully, the possibility of a reparation.

  • 29 Walter Benjamin, The Origin of German Tragic Drama (1928).
  • 30 ‘A Klee painting named Angelus Novus shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from (...)

13The best way of bringing the very uniqueness of Spence’s undertaking to light is in reality to emulate his intuitional approach, rather than theorize about it, for instance in the direction outlined by Benjamin, decades before.29 Indeed, the whole experiment might seem to conform to the latter’s approach to ruins. The spectacle of the carefully preserved older cathedral does conjure up a dialectical moment in the present, opening our mind’s eye. Yet the oxymoron here is not sited in the ruin itself but in the concrete linkage between old (the bombed cathedral) and new (the modern one). The ruin as ruin is not really the point. What is at stake is its complex relationship with the newer construction. Consequently, what its conservation achieves is not so much the revelation of the present to itself as Benjamin would have it, according to Naomi Stead (Stead 55), but the mutual enlightenment of past and present: Spence’s stone conjunction initiates an immobile dialectics between death (the past) and life (the present and the future), in opposition to baroque melancholy at the passing away of lives and things. It conjoins destruction and construction, hence the oxymoron and the semantic foregrounding inherent in it. Such confrontational co-presence is the very source of a kind of immobile dialectic, immobile in so far as it does not lead to any resultant synthetic stage, but endlessly deepens the interpretative crisis it inaugurates. It is actually a co-presence: the direct contact between the two buildings quickens both into a somehow modified ‘cathedral’ stance, the earlier conception being expanded into the new one, the latter being legitimized by its physical contact with its predecessor. Here is found the concrete embodiment of the present moment at the crossroads of tradition and invention, a fragile coming together proffering, in Benjamin’s terms, a new intuited and prolonged Erlebnis (experience in the making) both pained and elated, in opposition to Erfahrung (acquired experience). Such spectacle pierces us again and again through instantaneous affect, prior to any derivative emotion, an immediate experience of the body rather than of the mind (or allegory in Benjamin’s interpretation). The hitherto unheard of architectural apparatus forges a totally new way of understanding, that of a juncture between destruction and construction in an open bipolar and reciprocal exchange. The dead ruin is made alive, while at the same time overshadowing the modern building with the memory, and the imagined threat, of destruction, the latter alternative reminding one of Benjamin’s apocalyptic rendering of history in his commentary on Klee’s Angelus Novus.30 And yet, it does not suggest any teleological framing of the past. It fosters on the contrary a dynamic co-presence offering a new interpretation—away from the picturesque and its poetics of ruins—, towards a sense of architecture as a living experience, a centrally conflicted living experience. Spence’s stone bonding forces us into recognising, always anew, the creatively active potentials of his architectural construct. His attentive salvaging of older Saint Michael’s remnants could seem to be another avatar of the modern cult for ruins. It has literally nothing to do, though, with such mundane elegiac contemplation. It is the past astonishingly returned to, and maintained in, the puzzling and tentative presence of the lived moment.

  • 31 <<It seemed that out of battle I escaped
    Then, as I probed them, one sprang up, and stared
    With piteo (...)
  • 32 The Provost ‘believed that I had been inspired’ (Phoenix 23).
  • 33 In the dynamic meaning suggested by Gérard Genette in his L’Œuvre de l’art.

14This node of complexities was indeed multiplied and brought to a climax in a musical celebration, five days after the consecration, on May 30, 1962, when Britten’s War Requiem was premiered in the new precincts. In those unique moments, Basil Spence’s intuition must have seemed fully vindicated by the disconsolate lines of Wilfred Owen’s ‘Strange Meeting’ in the concluding ‘Libera me’, the split coalescence of the two-edged porch now betokening ‘[t]he pity of war, the pity war distilled’, as if the two buildings were, one to the other, the equivalent of those ‘distressful hands’ raised in ‘piteous recognition’.31 Could any better variation and expansion on the stone oxymoron, through and under which the public had to progress to enter the new cathedral, have been conceived? The fragile hand in hand between ruin and architectural regeneration was redolent indeed of such ‘piteous recognition’. In both Spence’s oeuvre and Britten’s Requiem, modernity it was that atoned for the two major human disasters of the twentieth century. Neither of these two answers was tainted by any conceptual revenge. On the contrary, they fully exemplified the contrarieties that energize life at its best. Past and present were seen and heard in their living disjunctive synthesis, in Deleuze’s and Guattari’s formulation (89). Here was a felicitous synaesthesia perfectly befitting such architectural agency, playing out to the full its latent possibilities. On that day, one imagines those inspired32 forms ‘worked’33 to capacity on the spectators cum listeners, as they will continue to do in ages to come, until they, in turn, become ruins.

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Benjamin, Walter, The Origin of German Tragic Drama (1928), trans. John Osborne, London: Verso, 2009.

Britten, Benjamin, War Requiem, Decca Music Group Limited (1963/1999) 2006.

Brémond Bortoli, Véronique et Delphine Dechance,, last accessed on 17 June 2012.

Chateaubriand, François-René (de), french Génie du christianisme, ZGcOPS8Hw-gC, last accessed on 17 June 2012.

Deleuze, Gilles and Félix Guattari, L’Anti-Œdipe, Paris: Éditions de Minuit, coll. ‘Critique’, 1972.

Dillon, Brian, ed., Ruins, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2011.

Eliot, T. S. ‘Tradition and the Individual Talent’, Selected Prose, Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1963, 21–30.

Hyppolite, Pierre, french La Ruine et le geste architectural, pref. Jean Delabroy, Limoges: PULIM, 2010.

Genette, Gérard, french L’Œuvre de l’art, La relation esthétique, Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1997.

Heaney, Seamus. Opened Ground—Poems 1966–1996, London: Faber & Faber, 1998.

Mortier, Roland, french La Poétique des ruines en France: ses origines, ses variations de la Renaissance à Victor Hugo, Genève: Droz, 1974.

Owen, Wilfred, ‘Strange Meetings’, The Mentor Book of Major British Poets, New York: New American Library, 1963, 479–80.

Spence, Basil, Phoenix at Coventry: The Building of a Cathedral—by its Architect, London: Fontana, 1964.

Stead, Naomi, ‘The Value of Ruins: Allegories of Destruction in Benjamin and Speer’,, last accessed on 17 June 2012.

Viollet-le-Duc, Eugène, french L’Architecture raisonnée, Paris: Hermann, 1964.

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1 ‘Filiation’ exhibition, Saint-Étienne, 2003 ( references and quotations from Diderot are taken from ‘La Ruine’ by Philippe Nora.

2 ‘Il y a deux sortes de ruines très distinctes; l’une, ouvrage du temps; l’autre, ouvrage des hommes. Les premières n’ont rien de désagréable, parce que la nature travaille auprès des ans. Font-ils des décombres? Elle y sème des fleurs. Entr’ouvrent-ils un tombeau? Elle y place le nid d’une colombe: sans cesse occupée à reproduire, elle environne la mort des plus douces illusions de la vie. Les secondes ruines sont plutôt des dévastations que des ruines; elles n’offrent que l’image du néant, sans une puissance réparatrice. Ouvrage du malheur, et non des années, elles ressemblent aux cheveux blancs sur la tête de la jeunesse. Les destructions des hommes sont d’ailleurs bien plus violentes et bien plus complètes que celles des âges: les seconds minent, les premiers renversent’ (Chateaubriand 170).

3 At (documents 6–11).

4 ‘Tous les hommes ont un secret attrait pour les ruines. Nous attachons nos regards sur les débris d’un arc de triomphe, d’un portique, d’une pyramide, d’un temple, d’un palais, et nous revenons sur nous-mêmes. Nous anticipons sur les ravages du temps, et notre imagination disperse sur la terre les édifices mêmes que nous habitons. À l’instant, la solitude et le silence règnent autour de nous. Nous restons seuls de toute une génération qui n’est plus; et voilà la première ligne de la poétique des ruines’ (Chateaubriand 167).

5 Among many references: Roland Mortier, and a short but useful bibliography on the French side by Véronique Brémond Bortoli and Delphine Dechance.

6 ‘Les idées que les ruines réveillent en moi sont grandes. Tout s’anéantit, tout périt, tout passe. Il n’y a que le monde qui reste; il n’y a que le temps qui dure. Qu’il est vieux ce monde! Je marche entre deux éternités’ (Diderot, Salon de 1767; Nora 1); ‘Nous attachons nos regards sur les débris d’un arc de triomphe, d’un portique, d’une pyramide, d’un temple, d’un palais, et nous revenons sur nous-mêmes’ (Chateaubriand 167).

7 At (second document).

8 At, last accessed on 17 June 2012.

9 At, last accessed on 17 June 2012.

10 At, last accessed on 17 June 2012.

11 At, last accessed on 17 June 2012.

12, last accessed on 17 June 2012.

13 ‘These fragments I have shored against my ruins’ (Eliot l. 430).

14 The ruins of Coventry Cathedral at, last accessed on 17 June 2012.

15 At, last accessed on 17 June 2012 (second photograph, with Seamus Heaney’s poems).

16 ‘The existing order is complete before the new work arrives; for order to persist after the supervention of novelty, the whole existing order must be, if ever so slightly, altered.’

17 At, last accessed on 17 June 2012 (first photograph). The new church was consecrated on 17 December 1961, five months before Coventry Cathedral.

18 At, last accessed on 17 June 2012 (third photograph).

19 At St_Nikolai_Memorial-Hamburg.html, last accessed on 17 June 2012 (tenth photograph).

20 At, last accessed on 17 June 2012.

21 At St-nikolai-dokumentationszent rum.JPG, last accessed on 17 June 2012.

22 At, last accessed on 17 June 2012.

23 At, last accessed on 17 June 2012.

24 At, last accessed on 17 June 2012.

25 At, last accessed on 17 June 2012.

26 See illustration at, last accessed on 17 June 2012.

27 All such references are to Phoenix at Coventry.

28 ‘We moved to the North and looked out through the glassless tracery over the ground reserved for the new cathedral, and in my mind’s eye I got one of those pictures that architects sometimes get. This one, however, was unusually clear—a great nave and an altar that was an invitation to Communion, and a huge picture behind it’ (6).

29 Walter Benjamin, The Origin of German Tragic Drama (1928).

30 ‘A Klee painting named Angelus Novus shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.’ At, last accessed on 17 June 2012.

31 <<It seemed that out of battle I escaped
Then, as I probed them, one sprang up, and stared
With piteous recognition in fixed eyes,
Lifting distressful hands, as if to bless.
And of my weeping something had been left,
Which must die now. I mean the truth untold,
The pity of war, the pity war distilled.>> (Owen).

32 The Provost ‘believed that I had been inspired’ (Phoenix 23).

33 In the dynamic meaning suggested by Gérard Genette in his L’Œuvre de l’art.

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Michel Morel, « Coventry Cathedral, 1962: Redeeming the Scar into Modernity », Études britanniques contemporaines, 43 | 2012, 123-138.

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Michel Morel, « Coventry Cathedral, 1962: Redeeming the Scar into Modernity », Études britanniques contemporaines [En ligne], 43 | 2012, mis en ligne le 07 juillet 2014, consulté le 27 juin 2017. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/ebc.1327

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Michel Morel

Université Nancy 2.
Michel Morel is Professor emeritus at Nancy 2. His field of research is the processes of reading activated by all kinds of text (from the press and popular writings to high literature). He is particularly interested in affects, the original causes of our emotions, triggered at the double level of the actualization of genre by the individual text and its concretization by the reader. He consequently investigates generic processes, in particular narrative ones, and the critical valuations dependent on them. His approach is multidisciplinary. He has recently extended his study of forms to the axiological contents of rhetorical figures, and also to other domains of expression like poster, painting and architecture.

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Études britanniques contemporaines est mise à disposition selon les termes de la Licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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