St Michael's in Coventry was the only British Cathedral to be destroyed in World War II, and its iconic ruins have stood as vivid and moving testimony for over seventy years. In 2011 sudden and alarming cracks appeared in the South West corner of the ruins. The crisis blocked off a nearby street and brought an urgent 2012 Watch listing.
WMFB launched a major project at the site working in partnership with the Dean and Chapter of the cathedral to help transform Coventry's unique historic assets. The campaign has secured funds and provided guidance to safeguard the deteriorating ruins of St Michael's and enabled the conservation of Britain's largest collection of loose medieval stained glass.
The first step was to repair and protect the ruins. Emergency work began in autumn 2011 with the South West corner, where the alarming crack first appeared. Crumbled masonry was repaired, the crafted red sandstone protected with capping, and defective drainage around the landmark steeple re-routed.
The second phase focused on repairs to the North West corner. This was completed in spring 2013, and was followed by repairs to the North Wall. The parapet wall was rebuilt and failing concrete capping removed and replaced with lead capping. The final stages of this phase of the project are ongoing, and less than three years after the cracks in the ruins first appeared, work to fully repair and stabilise St Michael's will complete in early 2015.
Coventry Cathedral is home to Britain's largest collection of loose medieval glass dating from the 15th century. This rare collection is thought to be the work of the city's renowned medieval glass artist John Thornton. It reveals the faces of Coventry's medieval forebears and gives a stunning insight into the incredible skill used in the making of stained glass. Unseen by the public for over 70 years, the collection gives a glimpse of society 600 years ago – medieval architecture, animals and flowers; the initials of wealthy locals and guilds that funded the church; winged angels sit side by side with scenes from daily life; and the faces of Coventry's citizens still shine out.
When war broke out in 1939, the medieval glass – which by this point had made its way up to the clerestory – was removed from St Michael's and placed in storage. At the start of WMFB's project, the collection was kept beneath the modern cathedral but was in need of more secure and stable conditions. Each piece was also covered in centuries of dirt.
The first step was to carefully conserve the important collection. WMFB partnered with the University of Lincoln's conservation department and the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum to conserve the glass in public view between August and October 2012. The highly skilled cleaning and repair process was showcased in the museum throughout the summer as an exciting live 'conservation in action' activity. The public were invited to view the previously unseen glass, meet the conservators and watch them work.
The conserved glass is now held in storage at the cathedral in environmentally stable and secure conditions. WMFB commissioned medieval stained glass specialist and leading authority on John Thornton Dr Heather Gilderdale Scott to produce a catalogue of the collection, which was completed in March 2014. Heather's accompanying iconographic analysis of the glass will be published in 2015 alongside historian George Demidowicz's research in a new WMF book, Old Coventry Cathedral.
WMFB funded and commissioned a Conservation Management Plan to enhance the available spaces around the city's 'Cathedral's Quarter' and link them so that they become more useful and coherent, reinforcing the character and story of the city.
Specialist consultants were commissioned to undertake detailed reports – Heritage Asset Analysis, Business Plan, Environmental Plan, and Learning Strategy – to fully understand the site and the opportunities. These reports were essential in helping to shape future phases of the project, looking into sustainable and viable options alongside maximising the benefits to locals and visitors alike. The Conservation Management Plan was completed in January 2013, and the next step was to commission a Feasibility Study to explore options for a new visitor facility for Coventry's Cathedral Quarter. The Study is in the final stages of completion and the recommendations will be taken forward as a central element of the cathedral's forthcoming funding applications.