Holy Trinity, Coventry, UK
Created | Updated Dec 5, 2015
Most people fail to notice Holy Trinity when they visit Coventry. However, the church, which faces Broadgate1 and the main shopping area, has one of the three spires (along with St Michael's and Christ Church) that dominate the Coventry skyline. However, once you come off the ring road it can be hard to find again among the buildings that have replaced the blitzed remains of the old city. Its location right beside the Cathedral means it is often missed, but a church has stood on this site since 1113. This makes it is as historic a building as the shell of the bombed-out Cathedral, or St Mary's Hall nearby. The current church was built in 1257, on the site of a ruined previous church which had been destroyed by fire in the late 12th or early 13th Century.
The people of Coventry once worshipped in one of three churches: St Mary's, which at the time Holy Trinity was built was the Benedictine Priory and the first Cathedral of Coventry; what is now the Cathedral St Michael's was the church of the gentry and traders, as it was built on the Earl's land to the south of the hill; Holy Trinity was the church of the people, and was originally overshadowed by St Mary's which is now in ruins and was featured on Channel 4's archaeology show Time Team. The second Cathedral, St Michael's, was destroyed by enemy action during the Second World War, and replaced in the 1960s by a new St Michael's Cathedral close by. This explains why there are still two impressive churches so close to each other and the remains of a third.
The glass of the church was removed by reformers in the 16th Century. The East window behind the altar was actually replaced following the second world war, as it was blown out by the blast from the bomb which destroyed the Cathedral. The replacement window was funded by contributions from brides who were married during the war, and is therefore known as 'The Brides Window'. It was designed by Sir Ninian Comper. At the other end of the nave, the West window was also blown out in the Blitz. As this faced the city centre, it was boarded up, but had this message painted on it:
It all depends on us, and we depend on God
The replacement was designed by Hugh Easton after the war.
The North Transept
Buttressed in the North West corner is the Archdeacon's Court, a location that was in use from before 1350. Here the archdeacon and his staff would try cases of people who had broken the church's own legal system. There are many monuments from other parts of the church that were re-sited here during the restoration of the church in 1854-1856. Amongst the relics here are fragments that remain from the Godiva window2, a medieval window which used to be located on the south side of the church.
Heading east we encounter the oldest part of the medieval church that has survived. This is the North Porch, which dates from around 1260. It was used as the main doorway to the Benedictine Priory which stood adjacent to the church. Above it is the 'Priest's Room', which was the vicarage in the 16th Century and could be reached by an extremely steep spiral staircase.
Next to the North Porch is the Peace Chapel (formerly known as St Thomas's Chapel), which also dates from the 13th Century. There are glazed openings where a doorway used to lead into the North Porch. Now it contains two prayer desks for the Gulf War, these are desks where prayer books are displayed with prayer requests that were made during the war. There is also a stone tablet commemorating those who lost their lives on HMS Coventry in the Falklands War, and other memorials.
Further along the north wall is the Marler Chapel, built in 1530 from contributions by wealthy local merchant Richard Marler. The ceiling, however, is carved in fine detail only at one end, possibly because of the Dissolution of the Chantries3 following the Reformation in 1550. There is a golden carpet here and under the altar, which was used in Westminster Abbey for Queen Elizabeth II's coronation.
Features in the Nave
The pulpit dates from 1470. There are two heads on it which are possibly those of King Henry VI and Queen Margaret of Anjou. It stands on a single elegantly-carved column. On the floor below stands a brass eagle-headed lectern, which also dates from the 15th Century. This was used for the offering, with money being dropped through the eagle's beak and taken out through a door in its tail feathers. Because it was a graven image it was hidden during the time of the Puritans and restored to its position later.
The font stands inside the west door, on a set of low steps which used to be the base of a cross which stood in the market square. It is another piece of the church furniture that dates from the 15th Century. It is large by today's Anglican standards, as the baby used to be fully immersed. It drains though a hole at the bottom, for ease of use.
The South Transept
Midway along the south wall is the Chapel of Remembrance, another of Sir Ninian Comper's post-war designs. It is now called the Jesus Chapel and once was an upper chapel allowing a right of way to the townspeople underneath, before the current right of way was constructed at the southern edge of the church. Towards the back of the South Transept you can still see the stone steps that were used by the infirm, before the introduction of pews into the church.
The first record of an organ in Holy Trinity is in 1526 built by John Howe and John Clynmowe from London for £30. It was dismantled in the late 16th Century with the advent of Puritan clergy, who disapproved of organs. The Rev Samuel Biggs got a replacement in 1631, but the following decade once again the Puritan clergy sold this for £30.
With the removal of the Puritans, an organ has existed in Holy Trinity since 1684, when Robert Haywood from Bath supplied a new one. St Michael's and Holy Trinity both received majestic new organs in 1732 from German organ-builder Thomas Swarbrick. At Holy Trinity, an organ gallery was built across the nave to accommodate the new organ, which had two manuals. In 1829, a Swell and Pedal were added.
Between 1855 and 1861, while restoration was going on throughout the church, a new organ chamber was constructed in the western part of the south chancel aisle. This is the present location for the pipes. It had three manuals plus pedals and was built by Foster and Andrews at a cost of £800. It was rebuilt in 1900 with an additional manual, and in 1923 the addition of an electric blowing chest did away with the need to pump the organ. The last rebuilding in 1961 cost £12,200 and was carried out by the firm of Henry Willis4. The organ comprises 59 speaking stops, each with 61 pipes, along with 30 couplers and 3 tremolos.