I’m in England at the moment. Yesterday I had a beautiful day in Coventry with my friend Sam. I never thought I would write ‘beautiful’ and ‘Coventry’ in the same sentence, but that was before I saw the cathedral, where Sam is volunteering.
Coventry is known as Britain’s Dresden. The cathedral was all but destroyed by bombing during the Second World War (despite the best efforts of the provost, who valiantly stood on the rooftop one night and tried to toss stray bombs onto the street with a pitchfork before they could explode). Only the outer walls and the spire remain. Peering into the cathedral on the morning after the bombs hit, one of the staff noticed that a pair of scorched beams had fallen in the shape of a cross.
When the war ended, it was decided that the ruins should remain as they were. Wandering through them, I was surprised by their peace. Normally in a place that bears obvious scars of violence I feel more grief than anything, but this place was marked with something more than that. I think it is because of all the love and care that people from Coventry (and much further afield) have put into making it a place for reconciliation. A statue was sent from Dresden, and it now stands near the entrance to the ruin, named simply ‘Survivors’. It is a quiet reminder that the prayer inscribed behind the charred cross – Jesus’ words as he died, ‘Father, forgive’ – was not just for the bomber pilots who discharged their cargo on Coventry but also for pilots who flew in the opposite direction. Nearby is a plaque in honour of people who died on the Home Front, confronting bombs with pitchforks, and one final statue – a couple embracing.
Our tour guide (a volunteer from Germany, whom Sam had roped into the expedition on the grounds that she knows more about the cathedral’s history than he does) explained that the statue’s creator was inspired by a woman who refused to believe that her husband (reported missing, believed dead) really was dead. She set off round Europe on foot to look for him. I don’t know if she ever found him, but the sculptor tried to imagine what their reunion might have looked like and cast it bronze. Originally titled ‘Reunion’, it was renamed ‘Reconciliation’ when it was donated to the Peace Studies department at Bradford University. Fifty years after the war’s end, several casts were made of the statue. One came to Coventry. Another went to Northern Ireland. A third stands in a park in Hiroshima.