I am the way, the truth, and the life...

Christ in Glory in the Tetramorph, Graham Sutherland (1962)
[Public Domain Image]

No one comes to the Father except through me

The original Coventry Cathedral (a splendid, medieval building) was destroyed in 1940 as a result of a Luftwaffe raid. Rather than rebuilding and restoring it, the Cathedral's Provost, the Rev'd Richard Howard, was adamant that the ruined building should remain as such to act as a permanent reminder of our Christian duty to both forgive and seek forgiveness. Erecting a cross of charred timber beams on the scorched high altar, he inscribed the words: 'Father, Forgive' into the stone.  

Adjacent to the ruined cathedral, a new building was built between 1956 and 1962 to a design by Basil Spence. Provost Howard's intention was that the old cathedral would tell the story of the Crucifixion whilst the new told the story of the Resurrection. 

The vast, new cathedral is furnished accordingly. Jacob Epstein's 25ft high sculpture of St Michael's victory over the devil greets you at the porch. The huge, aisle-less nave is flooded with colored light from a 100ft high baptistry window by John Piper.  Your eye is drawn to the High Altar and the dossal tapestry that dominates the entirety of the east end of the building (see inset image).

Covering a staggering 3000 sq ft and weighing over one tonne, Christ in Glory in the Tetramorph is the largest tapestry in existence. It was designed by the British abstract artist, Sir Graham Sutherland, and depicts Jesus Christ in majesty surrounded by the four winged creatures from the Book of Revelation. Between the feet of the 70ft seated Christ, there is a featureless figure of a man--through a trick of perspective he appears tiny even though he is, in fact, 6ft tall. 

In this Sunday's gospel reading, Jesus says that he is 'the way, the truth, and the life'. On approaching Coventry's altar rails to meet the Risen Lord in the Eucharist, one is dwarfed by the image of the omnipotent Christ, he who S. Ambrose called a 'giant of twofold substance'. The point is clear: 'no one comes to the Father except through me' [Jn. 14.6b].

Music: William Walton (1902-83)
Text: Communion Service, Book of Common Prayer 1662
Artists: The Finzi Singers, Andrew Lumsden (Organ)/Paul Spicer

Four years after its consecration in 1962, the English composer William Walton was commissioned to compose a mass setting for the new Coventry Cathedral. Walton's Missa Brevis is very 'brevis' (short)--a complete performance lasts just over eight minutes. It sets the text of the Communion Service from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.

One curious aspect of the Anglican Mass is that the Gloria in Excelsis follows the Post-Communion Prayer--of course, in the Roman Rite in follows the Penitential Rite. In Anglican eucharistic theology, the Gloria functions as hymn of praise and thanksgiving on receiving Holy Communion. To emphasize this point, only the Gloria of Walton's setting contains an organ part (and a splendid one at that!). The other three movements (which proceed it) are unaccompanied and of a much more ethereal mood. 



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