In 2017, in honor of the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation, a group from Bethel visited Germany. During our visit, we were moved to learn about the Coventry Cross of Nails at the Church of Reconciliation in Berlin, which found itself on the other side of the Berlin Wall. It is now known as the Church of Reconciliation and is considered a “Coventry Church,” i.e. a church destroyed in the war or post-war which becomes honored and given a cross made of nails from the Coventry Church in England as a sign of forgiveness and reconciliation.
When we returned, two families, Jack and Jane McAllister and Bob and Terri Hollingsworth, led a renovation of courtyard in honor of the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. Our new “Reformation Courtyard” has, as its centerpiece, our very own Coventry Cross made by local metalworker, Andrew White, a friend of the McAllister family.
Here is a brief history of the Coventry Cross of Nails.
A Coventry Cross of Nails is a Christian cross made from iron nails, employed as a symbol of peace and reconciliation. The original version was made from three large medieval nails salvaged from the Coventry Cathedral after the building was severely damaged by German bombs during the Second World War. In the following decades, several hundred crosses have been given as gifts to various organizations, including churches, prisons and schools. The form of the cross echoes the crucifixion of Christ, and the nails with which Christ was affixed to the cross according to some accounts.
Coventry Cathedral was severely damaged during the Coventry Blitz, and its roof was destroyed on 14 November 1940. The idea for the cross came from Rev Arthur Philip Wales, who was then rector of St Mark’s church in Coventry, which was also damaged in the bombing. He found several large hand-forged medieval carpenters nails as he walked through the ruins of the cathedral on the morning after the bombing. He used some wire to bind together three nails into the shape of a Latin cross, with one nail vertical and two head-to-tail as a cross-piece, and presented them to the Bishop of Coventry, Mervyn Haigh. The Cathedral’s Provost Richard Howard had the words “Father Forgive” carved into the wall behind the altar of the ruined building, and two charred beams fallen together into the shape of a cross were erected among the rubble. The original charred cross is now displayed in the new cathedral, constructed after the war adjacent to the ruins of the medieval cathedral, with a replica placed in the standing ruins of the old cathedral. The original cross of nails is also retained by the new cathedral.