The Coventry Cross of Nails

Coventry Cathedral, in England, also suffered the terror of the Second World War. When the cathedral was destroyed by German bomb attacks on 14/15 November 1940, then Provost Richard Howard had the words “Father forgive” chiselled into the ruins of the sanctuary wall. Above these words, on the altar, stands the original Coventry Cross of Nails. In the smoking ruins of the cathedral after the destruction, some mediaeval carpenter’s nails were salvaged from the beams of the vaulted ceiling. Three of these nails were later bound together in the shape of a cross. Thus, remnants of the destruction were turned into a new sign of Christian hope, showing that the wounds of war were healing.

Since then steps of reconciliation have been taken in various ways around the world in the spirit of the Cross of Nails. More than 200 Crosses of Nails have found a home in places where the people beneath these crosses have chosen to lay aside old differences and live in a spirit of reconciliation. Today, at Coventry cathedral, Canon David Porter is responsible for international reconciliation work. 160 of these Cross of Nails Centres are engaged in a lively dialogue with Coventry Cathedral, including Dresden Frauenkirche, with the Coventry Cross of Nails on its altar. The Ecumenical Memorial Route in Dresden is one form of reconciliation made real.

Daily plea for forgiveness

Like more than 50 other sites in Germany, Dresden Frauenkirche is also a Cross of Nails Centre. The Coventry Litany of Reconciliation is prayed here regularly. Every Friday the guests at midday prayer are invited to say the Litany of Reconciliation together. The plea for forgiveness – not only for others, who could easily be proclaimed as guilty, but also for oneself – is at the heart of the prayer.

Many encounters take place in the Frauenkirche based on the aspect of reconciliation. It is the church’s way of helping to keep faith alive, to reunite contrasting and opposing forces and to sustain hope for reconciliation!

Ecumenical Memorial Route

From Dresden Eastern Europe seems closer than in other more distant regions of the continent. Along with our direct neighbours – the Czech Republic and Poland – a first opportunity has been taken to develop a joint message of reconciliation.

In 2009 the four Dresden Cross of Nails Centres agreed on the path of an Ecumenical Memorial Route, introduced on 1 September tocommemorate the 70th anniversary of Poland’s invasion by German troops. More than 100 Polish guests were welcomed to Dresden. It was a moving moment to stand with Protestant and Catholic German and Polish clergy on the Augustusbrücke bridge in Dresden and, accompanied by a “Boat of Hope”, to recite the Coventry Litany of Reconciliation together in Polish and German.

An ecumenical service offered an opportunity to come together, as a meditation card recorded:

Approaching one another boldly
from different times and zones
not important who
first holds out a hand on the bridge
important only that we want it
important only that we meet
high above the abyss we touch 
(Ute Zydek, Wuppertal, Germany)

The evening was rounded off with a commemorative festival on Neumarkt square, a Polish film and a programme of literature and music with letters by soldiers at the start of the war.

In future the Dresden Cross of Nails Centres are planning further encounters with our Polish neighbours.

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, FATHER FORGIVE.

The covetous desires of people and nations to possess what is not their own, FATHER FORGIVE.

The greed which exploits the work of human hands and lays waste the earth, FATHER FORGIVE.

Our envy of welfare and happiness of others, FATHER FORGIVE.

Our indifference to the plight of imprisoned, the homeless, the refugee, FATHER FORGIVE.

The lust which dishonours the bodies of men, women and children, FATHER FORGIVE.

The pride which leads us to trust in ourselves and not in God, FATHER FORGIVE.

Be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

Did you know that ...

the Frauenkirche Dresden Foundation presented the statue "Choir of Survivors" to the Cathedral of Coventry in May 2012 on the ocasion of the Golden Jubilee?