The maquette for John Piper’s baptistery window for Coventry Cathedral in the V and A’s ‘British Design 1948-2012’ exhibition last year inspired a visit to see the real thing.
After the 14th Century cathedral was bombed in World War 2, Basil Spence was selected as the architect for a new Cathedral following a competition. The ‘new’ cathedral, begun in 1956 completed in 1962, sits next to the ruins of the old; the ruins are also clearly framed by the ‘Great West Window’, the ‘Screen of Saints & Angles’ by John Hutton.
The building was constructed in the same sandstone as the ruined building and its exterior seems massive and impressive in the way that such a building should be, however it is the interior which for me was a complete revelation. The nave space is immense with seven pairs of elegant pillars drawing the eye vertically, but the real genius is the way in which the decorative elements are completely integral to the whole. The John Piper window is fantastic, but equally beautiful are the narrow stained glass windows which line the nave by Lawrence Lee. The choir stalls designed by Spence himself sit comfortably in their environment and every element that you look at seems to have been so carefully considered and beautifully realised – the ‘Coventry Cathedral Chairs’ by Dick Russell (Gordon Russell), the wonderful Hans Copper candle sticks, the High Altar Cross designed by Geoffrey Clarke………I can heartily recommend a visit, for anyone with even a passing interest in 20th century design it will both inspire and inform.