Coventry, UK City of Culture 2021
Some people seem to be scratching their heads, asking themselves why Coventry has been chosen as UK City of Culture 2021. British people that is. What doesn’t seem to be realised is that Coventry is an international city, its name resonating with people around the world. Its message of peace and reconciliation is heard by thousands in other countries and has done so since the building of the inspirational new cathedral consecrated in 1962.
Community of the Cross of Nails
People and organisations are linked through the Coventry based Community of the Cross of Nails – the Cross of Nails that symbolises peace and reconciliation and which is worn by the current Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. The Community of the Cross of Nails was founded in 1974 and now has hundreds of members throughout the world, ranging from Burundi to Belarus, from Iraq to Ireland.
The first Cross of Nails was created in 1940 following the destruction of the old cathedral in a German air raid. It was formed from three medieval nails that fell from the roof. The Provost of that time, Dick Howard, declared that when the war was over we should work with those who had been enemies ‘to build a kinder, more Christ-like world.’
The Cross in the American Deep South
I have my own Cross of Nails story. When I was in the Deep South of the USA, researching my book Life on Death Row, I visited the Bishop of Mississippi’s assistant in his office in Jackson. I was apprehensive. The ethos of the Deep South was aggressively pro-death penalty even among practising Christians. As I entered his office, I saw on the wall a Coventry Cross of Nails. Immediately I knew that I had found a sanctuary.
But it is important that Coventry and its Cross of Nails should be a symbol for looking forward, not only looking back to the destruction which created it and with which the city itself has been long associated.
Malcolm Bell, one of those who is linked to the Coventry/Dresden project of reconciliation which I took part in and which I have written about in two of my books, stresses that this choice of Coventry as the UK City of Culture is an opportunity for an ‘Easter’ new beginning, a rebirth, not an endless requiem. ‘We must not only forgive, we must also forget,’ he says.
My daughter Megan Young wrote two poems about Dresden, one when she was only seven years old. For Malcolm, the last two lines of that poem, written by a child, ‘Dresden a city/Almost restored’ make his case.
‘She makes me want to shout ‘Hooray’. The ‘almost’ to me says striving for and achieving healing. Progress. We are healing and moving on.’ This is a message that is echoed by the Dean of Coventry Cathedral, John Witcombe. This is a new beginning for Coventry, for her Cathedral, for our international role in peace and reconciliation, for our future, he says.