I visit the Coventry Cathedral Ruins as often as I can. This isn’t due to a religious vow or for the spiritual fulfillment of my soul. Rather, it is to observe the grandeur of the rubble that remains majestic even with its crumbling walls.
Admittedly, it is under the care of the Cathedral management as well as the City Council. However, the remains of the ruins have managed to rebel against the modern efforts to keep it civilised. The ruins are survivors, storytellers, prisoners of humanity and yet it is an emancipated space.
When I sit on one of its benches on quiet mornings, the Cathedral hums. The wind whistles eerily around me, singing the haunting ballad of the massacre that occurred during the Second World War. But more than the wind whispering that tale in my ears, the objects within the premises seem to animate their origins.
The effigy of Huyshe Wolcott Yeatman-Biggs is one such historical artefact of the ruins that always draws my attention. Sir William Hamo Thornycroft was responsible for sculpting the bronze model of the late Bishop. The religious figure is lying on a bed with his eyes staring at the sky. He’s wearing a mitre and a cope (or a cloak), a cane rests beside him. He cradles a miniature model of the Old Coventry Cathedral in his palms. The artefact survived the Blitz in 1940 and has remained more or less intact. It seems to convey a stubbornness and defiance towards human activities.
To me, the sculpture displays corrosion over the century. The verdigris on the bronze material doesn’t conform to the label ‘ inanimate.’ It is breathing with me as the air surrounding us poisons the metal. The oxygen, that is the source of my existence, seems to pollute the miniature cathedral in the palms of H. W. Yeatman-Biggs. Repeating the past, living in it, as if time has stood still forevermore.
Whilst we care about the historical places, it is not just the human effort to create an identity for these spaces. We bind these buildings and lock them from human intrusion. Yet nature takes its course. The verdigris grows. How can one ever stop air from existing?
My finger traces the metal, although the sign clearly says that I must not. I guess my index finger could do more harm to the oxidised material. But my skin itched to connect with the miniature. The rough edges scratch my skin. There are only patches of its original “skin” still intact. With every humid day, the corrosion is taking over. The turquoise alloy has tattooed the religious figure.
Then there is the red-brick bed on which the statue lies. Some bricks are blackened by the fire during the Blitz, some of them are now toasted brown. This precious artefact is tainted by moss that is feeding on the moisture on the bricks. It is believed that moss enables the production of oxygen on Earth. Could it be that the very moss living on the bed of the sculpture has caused the poisoning of the statue? Whilst we live in a bubble of self-importance, it is actually the environment that holds the power of survival and extinction.
The ruins don’t have incense sticks for a religious ambience; I can smell the fresh midland breeze. There is no roof and so the sun, rain, hail and snow have battered the grounds, much like the German bombs, every day. There is no grand door, but a giant gate that protects what lies within. Here weeds and grass grow between tiles, unruly. The bell tower roars on certain weekends. And whilst many believe that humans have taken over this site, I believe that nature has reclaimed it.