Coventry: City of Peace and Reconciliation
On some of the roads leading into Coventry there are signs that declare Coventry is the ‘city of peace and reconciliation.’ Where does come from and what does it mean?
On the night of 14 November 1940, the German Luftwaffe bombed Coventry, killing over 500 people in one night, and destroying large parts of the city, including its medieval cathedral.
The legacy of Coventry as a city of peace and reconciliation began that year when the provost of the cathedral, Richard Howard, in a Christmas radio broadcast, urged people to break the cycle of vengeance and to forgive – not only the Germans, but all humanity, for the scourge of war.
In the ruins of the old Cathedral, connected to the new Cathedral, is an altar with a charred cross of nails, a replica of beams found lying in the rubble of the destroyed cathedral in the form of a cross. The charred cross is kept on the altar at the front of the ruins and, every Friday to this day, a Litany of Reconciliation is recited, reaffirming the City’s commitment to peace and reconciliation.
In 1944, in the midst of war, Coventry became linked with what was then Stalingrad (now Volgograd), declaring a formal friendship between the two war-torn cities. After the war, Coventry became twinned with a number of other ‘martyred cities’, including Dresden, and went on to form friendship links with other cities – 26 in total. Coventry Cathedral, Coventry City Council and local citizens groups, such as the Coventry Association for International Friendship and the Lord Mayor’s Peace Committee, continue to work together to promote peace and reconciliation.
The Coventry Peace Trail begins in the ruins of the old cathedral and is a walking tour of some of the sites that are a part of the peace history of the city. In takes in the Cathedral ruins, including the alter, the cross of nails and the Reconciliation Sculpture, which have become symbols of peace, alongside the Peace and Reconciliation Gallery in the Herbert Museum, which tells the story of the blitz of Coventry and explains Coventry’s links with other war-torn cities and contemporary peacebuilding initiatives.