Have you walked the Coventry Peace Trail yet?
In 1944, the people of Coventry and Stalingrad declared a formal friendship link between their two war-devastated cities. More than a half century later, that Russian city, now Volgograd, is one of 26 towns and cities around the world twinned with Coventry.
The global ministry of Coventry Cathedral, dedicated to peace and reconciliation and active in many troubled parts of the world, has reinforced that pioneering civic initiative. It was strengthened further by the founding of the Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations at Coventry University, the home of RISING Global Peace Forum.
The city, the cathedral, and the university work together to promote study and discussion of issues related to conflict and peace and to organise events such as RISING Global Peace Forum and the annual Peace Festival held in November each year.
Coventry’s willingness to set the past aside and hold out the hand of friendship has given it an international reputation as a global city of peace and reconciliation.
This walking tour, created in 2016 by the Lord Mayor’s Committee for Peace & Reconciliation, visits sites associated with peace in Coventry city centre. It begins with the ruins of St. Michael’s Cathedral, blitzed in 1940, and concludes in Millennium Place.
The Cathedral Ruins
St Michael’s cathedral was destroyed from the air on the night of 14 November, 1940, the only cathedral church in Britain to be lost in this way. The ruins stand not only as a powerful symbol of the impact of war, but also as a place of pilgrimage, visited by many mthousands each year who see the ruins as a vision of hope in the world.
The Charred Cross
At the altar of the ruined church stands a charred cross, a replica of two beams found lying in a cruciform shape in the rubble on the morning after the destruction. On the wall behind it are the words Father Forgive, a plea directed not just at the aggressors, but at those who suffered too. A Litany of Reconciliation is said before the altar every Friday at noon, reaffirming the cathedral’s special ministry of reconciliation and renewal.
A plaque unveiled by Her Majesty The Queen Mother during the commemorations on 14 November, 1990, marking the 50th anniversary of the Coventry Blitz. It bears the words, ‘nation shall not lift up sword against nation…neither shall they learn war any more. Micah 4v3.
A work by Josefina de Vasconcellos, representing the reconciliation of those divided by war. It was donated to Coventry Cathedral by Sir Richard Branson in 1995 to mark the 50th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. Identical sculptures have been placed in the Peace Garden at Hiroshima, the gardens of Stormont, Northern Ireland, and in Berlin.
Choir of Survivors Sculpture
A sculpture dedicated to civilians killed or injured in aerial bombing during wars past and present. When the sculpture was unveiled in 2012 specific reference was made to German civilians killed in the Allied bombings in 1940-1945, particularly in Dresden. It is the work of contemporary German artist Helmut Heinze and was donated by the Frauenkirke Foundation of Dresden.
Memorial to Civilians Killed in War
In the shadows of the ruined cathedral lies a stone commemorating noncombatants killed in war. Brought from the United States in 2001, the stone was exhibited in many locations before being installed in the gardens of the cathedral.
Oak Trees for Peace
A few metres from the memorial to civilians killed in war, just across St Michael’s Avenue, are two Japanese oak trees. They were planted by Yoko Ono when she opened the city’s
peace month on 14 October 2005. On 15 June 1968, John Lennon and Yoko Ono had planted two acorns for peace in the Cathedral grounds. They were planted in east and westerly positions, symbolizing the meeting of the couple and the union of their two cultures. This was the first of many peace events that the couple would initiate throughout their lives.
A hand-crafted white wooden pole, displaying the message ‘May Peace Prevail on Earth’. More than 100,000 peace poles have been placed around the world in over 180 countries.
The New Cathedral
Chapel of Unity
At the time of the cathedral’s consecration (1962), the idea of a separately administered, ecumenical chapel, for use by many denominations of the Christian faith, was truly innovative. Every year on 6 August, to commemorate the bombing of Hiroshima, an event is held with readings and music to remember those who died and to commit to the creation
of a world without nuclear weapons. The event is open to the general public and people of all faiths.
The Cross of Nails
The original cross of nails was made from medieval roofing nails found amongst the rubble on the morning after the Blitz. Since then the Cross of Nails has become the symbol of the cathedral’s international ministry for reconciliation. A network of Cross of Nails centres exists around the world.
Sited beneath John Piper’s stunning Baptistry window the baptismal font is crafted from a boulder from a hillside near Bethlehem. It was donated to the cathedral in 1960 from the government of Jordan as a gesture towards Muslim, Christian and Jewish cooperation.
This gift to the cathedral from Kiel was designed with candle-holders for each of the victims, and perpetrators, of the London bombings of 7 July 2005. The candle-stand is a symbol of the cathedral’s enduring commitment to sharing together in building a community and future for us all. Kiel, a German city which was heavily bombed in the Second World War has been twinned with Coventry since 1947.
A sketch drawn by German army doctor Kurt Ruber while serving on the Eastern Front – the words ‘Light, Life, and Love’ point to the confidence of hope amid the turmoil and chaos of war. The original is now in a Berlin church, while copies of the Stalingrad Madonna hang in the cathedral’s Millennium Chapel and in Volgograd (formerly Stalingrad) itself.
Herbert Art Gallery and Museum, Jordan Well
The Peace and Reconciliation Gallery within the Herbert Museum reflects Coventry’s experience of war and the city’s post-war commitment to reconciliation, exploring themes of friendship, peace, and reconciliation at local, regional and international levels. In the history section of the museum are some items from the 2-Tone era, created by Coventry musicians in the late 1970s with a black and white logo representing the desire to transcend and defuse racial tensions in Britain.
The Herbert also has a gallery of paintings illustrating the life and legend of Lady Godiva.
Twin Cities Plinth, Herbert Art Gallery Grounds
A peace garden was formally opened by Her Majesty The Queen Mother in 1990 and a sculpture and plaque marking that event stands at the main entrance to the Herbert Art Gallery with olive trees representing peace. A plinth engraved with the names, direction and distance from Coventry, of the city’s 26 twin towns and cities around the world, originally placed in the peace garden, now stands in the Herbert Art Gallery grounds, at the side entrance to the Gallery.
St. Mary’s Guildhall, Bayley Lane
One of the finest surviving medieval guildhalls in England, St. Mary’s Guildhall was first built in the 1340s and enlarged and embellished at the end of the fifteenth century. Its main
attraction is the Great Hall,ceiling of carved angels and rare tapestry. Coventry’s annual Peace Lecture is held in the Great Hall every year.
An elevated walkway leading to one of Coventry’s chief civic centres. It was named in 1989 to celebrate 40 years of friendship links between people living in the German city and Coventry.
Godiva Statue, Broadgate
Godiva was a historic person, the wife of Leofric, the 11th century Earl of Mercia. Legend has it that she rode naked through the streets of Coventry – covered only by her long hair – to gain a remission of the oppressive taxation that her husband had imposed on his tenants. Godiva has become a powerful symbol of compassion and commitment to social justice, and is the most important civic icon of the city.
Phoenix Statue, Hertford Street
Coventry sculptor George Wagstaffe’s 1962 work is a personal take on the phoenix that symbolises the new city arising from the flames and destruction of the old.
Near the Phoenix sculpture is Dresden Place. Dresden was twinned with Coventry in 1956 and remains one of the closest links. A plaque marking the square was unveiled in 1974 by the Lord Mayor of Dresden, testimony to the friendship link ‘born out of wartime destruction and now devoted to international understanding and peace.’
At the entrance to the Lower Precinct, a decorative plaque on a free-standing plinth commemorates another of Coventry’s friendship links born out of suffering, this time with the Czech village of Lidice, razed to the ground by the Nazis in 1942.
The city’s main theatre is named in honour of the capital of Serbia, once Yugoslavia, which was twinned with Coventry in 1957 and provided a gift of wood for the interior of the new building. On the building’s street frontage there is a sculptured relief depicting Belgrade in 1684.
Opened in 2003, Millennium Place, outside the Coventry Transport Museum, features artworks concerned with friendship and reconciliation on both a personal and community level.
The Public Bench
The Public Bench by the German artist Jochen Gerz is decorated with plaques celebrating personal friendships, placed on the wall by more than 2000 local people.
The Future Monument
Also created by Jochen Gerz The Future Monument, a glass obelisk surrounded by plaques celebrating a former enemy that has become a friend to Coventry, while a smaller ring of plaques represents many of the different communities to be found in the city.
View the interactive trail map at covpeacetrail.uk