It is the 14th of November 2020. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I'm Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1940.
John Ford's adaptation of John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath, which was released this year. It remains, according to the Almanac research team, the best Steinbeck movie adaptation and one of the great film adaptations of literature.
1940 also gave us one of the great Baseball riddles. It involves the Chicago White Sox on opening day… but riddles and frivolity are not on today's menu.
Despite some frivolity America, the year's story was the escalating 2nd World War on the Continent. This year saw the NAZI blitzkrieg of France, the evacuation of Dunkirk, the opening of Auschwitz, and the NAZI's occupying Paris. The year saw the battle of Britain and the introduction of aerial bombing techniques unlike any other in size and force.
And it was in the midst of this evil and suffering that the War and the world would inadvertently receive a symbol of death and resurrection. On this, the 14th of November in 1940 that the German Luftwaffe rained down bombs over the English Midlands. The Cathedral at Coventry, one of the great symbols of the English church, was destroyed. The next morning, the church and community decided to begin to rebuild.
The cathedral and town go back to 1016 when King Canute of Denmark raided the town and destroyed the Saxon Nunnery. This symbol of the new faith was reborn, for the first time, as the Coventry Cathedral. It was done with the generosity of Leofric, the Earl of Mercia, and his devout wife. Lady Godgifu (you might remember our episode on the pious and scandalous Lady Godiva from a few months ago. this is that same person).
The town would become a wealthy center for textiles and trade during the Middle Ages. The wealth of the town helped to enhance the cathedral and build other church buildings. Fun fact: the term "True Blue" as in "fidelity" or "constancy" comes from Coventry. The word is that their blue dyes were the finest and most consistent in the land.
When Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries and sold off Church land in the 1530s, the cathedral would have to be resurrected once again. Through the English Civil Wars and the unrest of the following century, the cathedral remained.
Until this day, the 14th of November, in 1941. The devastating bombings left the city primarily evacuated by those not killed. The smell of burnt flesh was recalled by those remembering it decades later. Over 30,000 bombs destroyed over 40,000 homes and killed almost 600 in a single evening.
The provost of the Cathedral, Dick Howard, decided the next day that the church would be rebuilt. And this rebuilding would not be an expression of obstinacy towards the Germans, but rather one of reconciliation. On Christmas Day, Provost Howard gave the BBC a message from the ruined but rebuilding cathedral.
The roof on the cathedral was never replaced, and next to it, a new cathedral was built, incorporating the ruins into its design. Today, a charred cross from two burnt beams serves as one reminder of the cathedral's past, as does its mission of reconciliation. In the church, you will find a drawing of the Madonna. A German soldier drew a copy of the Stalingrad Madonna. A copy is on display in this church and a church in Berlin, and a church in what was then Stalingrad.
Today, in all three churches, and in churches around the world, you might hear the Litany of Reconciliation. a call for forgiveness for that which leads us into conflict. The litany is recited every the 14th of November in memory of the destruction of the town and cathedral on this, the 14th of November, in 1940.
The reading for today is the Litany of Reconciliation, written by Canon Joseph Poole in 1958.
The Coventry Litany of Reconciliation
All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
The hatred which divides nation from nation, race from race, class from class,
The covetous desires of people and nations to possess what is not their own,
The greed which exploits the work of human hands and lays waste the earth,
Our envy of the welfare and happiness of others,
Our indifference to the plight of the imprisoned, the homeless, the refugee,
The lust which dishonours the bodies of men, women and children,
The pride which leads us to trust in ourselves and not in God,
Be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 14th of November 2020 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by a man trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored, Christopher Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day. Remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true… Everything is going to be ok.