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Archbishop speaks of Coventry's fame

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has spoken about Coventry's worldwide fame. He said, "All cities say they are famous throughout the world; but, in my travels, I’ve discovered that Coventry really is famous."

Shortly after his arrival in Coventry for a four-day visit, Archbishop Justin was invited to a civic reception by the Lord Mayor.

In welcoming him, ​the Lord Mayor praised the work of the Diocese and the city's churches, saying:

"Our churches build communities, bring people together and spread a message of peace and friendship – led by our magnificent cathedral that is known around the world as a symbol of reconciliation.

Their strong legacy of faith and caring for our fellow man has helped us to build a marvellous diverse melting-pot of a city that is a role model for others.

We are a city of refuge and sanctuary and we are proud to offer help to those in need – but they also help us so much and enrich our lives.

Our new residents bring their traditions and cultures from around the globe to make our city a truly amazing place, where people of all races and faiths live happily side by side.

I know that message is very dear to your heart and that your time leading the cathedral’s international reconciliation work still inspires you today.

It also inspires the people of Coventry and thousands of others around the world. Thank you for everything you have done for Coventry."

In response, Archbishop Justin said:

"It’s wonderful to be back in this room, in which I’ve sat on a number of occasions, looking at photographs displayed on the walls.  I’m struck by the way appearances have changed over the years.

My last big trip here was when I was given the honour of being given the freedom of the city.  That was a huge honour for me, which I value very greatly.

Lord Mayor, thank you for your wise words in which you talked about the city’s history.  A former Bishop of Coventry, Colin Bennetts, used to think that he was not well known outside of Coventry; except for when abroad, for there he said that the Bishop of Coventry was bigger than being Archbishop of Canterbury!

There is a considerable element of truth in that, because the Cross of Nails is known throughout the world.

It’s a very rare day when I’m on duty that I’m not wearing a Cross of Nails.  It’s so often commented on, and people say, “That’s such a beautiful cross, what’s its story?”  So I tell the Coventry Story.

Of course the Coventry Story is also told through the architecture of Coventry Cathedral, with the cathedral ruins leading us to the glorious new building.  It’s a story not only of suffering, death and reconciliation, but also a story of resurrection.

I also see signs of new life in the city.

When I think back to the early 1990s, when I first came to this region and was living in Nuneaton, people were saying, “It’s the end of the motor industry, it will all go abroad.”  But Coventry design and high-tech engineering in the automotive industry is cutting edge and leads the world.  It has moved ahead in a most extraordinary way; linked into its universities which have also grown and given such extraordinary life to the city.

Lord Mayor, Coventry also has the culture that you talked about.  To my mind, one of the greatest pieces of music ever composed is Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem.  It was commissioned to mark the consecration of the new Coventry Cathedral, and first performed in the Cathedral in 1962.

My grandmother left me the record, I just don’t have a record player!  That piece of music, which speaks so powerfully of war, peace, reconciliation and hope, became almost the theme tune for anti-war movements in the ensuing years.

Coventry continues to speak around the world.  All cities say they are famous throughout the world; but, in my travels, I’ve discovered that Coventry really is famous.

And it’s most famous in the places of most suffering.  When I go to Burundi – to the Cathedral of Bujumbura where you will frequently hear gunfire outside the Cathedral, where people disappear every night and are killed in the fighting going on there – what do I find?  The Coventry Cross of Nails.  They know the Coventry Story.

I’ve told that story and watched their faces lift as they think it is possible to know death and resurrection in this world because of the example we set.  In looking forward, may God give you the strength to carry this story through the City of Culture year in 2021.

We moved to Liverpool in 2007, and were living at the edge of Toxteth.  Our friends would ring up from London and ask, “Are you safe?  Have you been mugged?”  And I’d say, “No!  Since Liverpool has become the City of Culture, we’ve had so many parties!”

Being the City of Culture will be the most fabulous year; and it will change the city.  May you carry this message of peace and reconciliation across the land.

I pray for you that God will bless you in your endeavours and also in your partying!  May you have more impact, and more storytelling that will tell people about the joy that comes with reconciliation in a world that has learnt to know everything and be reconciled to no-one.

Thank you."