August 24, 2010

Image as Insight: Considering Limits of Time and Space

Editor's note: Lots to contemplate in this latest post by Baya Clare. I visited the ruins of Coventry Cathedral in 1967 and remember the experience so vividly, that I gasped when the image Baya sent popped up on my screen. I have no memory of the new cathedral which, I realize, underscores her point.


Coventry, a city in the West Midlands of England, was a great center of manufacturing in the early part of the 20th century, so it's not surprising it was also a prime target for German bombers during World War II.

It was bombed several times, but the worst was the night of November 14, 1940, when between 500 and 1000 people were killed, most buildings were reduced to rubble, and the 14th century cathedral was heavily damaged.

The people of Coventry began building a new cathedral designed by Sir Basil Spence in 1956.

Built right next to the ruins and rubble of the old cathedral, visitors have to walk through the old part to enter the new. The old, bombed out cathedral is considered hallowed ground. The new cathedral, consecrated in 1962, was intended to have a design that would transcend the age and be a kind of new classical form.

Alas, as beautiful as the cathedral is, more than 50 years later, it now looks like what it was: not a timeless form, but clearly a creation of the 1950s, with colorful, stylized organic shapes, and soaring, uplifted, spiky lines. Not like every other church of its era, but almost, albeit on a grander scale. Not that that's a bad thing, mind you. The 14th century ruins are also emblematic of their era.

In its failure to achieve timelessness, the Coventry Cathedral reminds us of one core tenets of our faith: we are limited in time and space. We often do not want to hear or acknowledge that, forgetting that it can also be a blessing.

Our mortal bodies, limited in time and space are the means by which we encounter and know God, and know that we are not God. We can and must do what we can do with what we are. Coventry Cathedral, now known as a center of peacemaking ministry, did not succeed in its ambition to be a classic. But what it has become is perhaps more important in the long run.

1 comment:

Fran said...

Reading this caused me to cry... not in a bad way. This perspective is very helpful.