United Kingdom,  Destinations,  Europe

Exploring Coventry Cathedral Ruins & Priory Garden

I visited Coventry in 2022 as part of a larger tour around England, and I wanted to visit because of the cool historical buildings within the city walls. Coventry Cathedral is particularly interesting because there’s three structures in the same area, with a fascinating history.

I visited the ruins and Priory Gardens and took lots of photos, so I thought I’d share my experience with y’all and give some insight to the area.

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Coventry Cathedral Quick Info

Address: Priory St, Coventry CV1 5AB, United Kingdom

Homepage: http://www.coventrycathedral.org.uk/

Priory Garden address: Priory Row, Coventry CV1 5EX, United Kingdom

Priory Garden homepage: https://www.historiccoventry.co.uk/cathedrals/stmarys.php

All free to visit!

The Cathedral has a Blitz Museum which is run by volunteers. Check for opening dates and times before you go, as it’s dependent on having staff available.

You can climb the tower for £5, though it’s opening is dependent on good weather and staff availability.

Coventry Cathedral Walking Tours

It’s easy to DIY a visit, but you want more in-depth information about the history of the area, then joining a walking tour is a great idea.

Godiva’s Cathedral Quarter Walk: this is a guided tour covering the Cathedral and nearby areas, including Lady Godiva Statue, Golden Cross, St. Mary’s Guildhall, Council House, Drapers Hall, and the Holy Trinity Church.

Or you could get this self-guided audio tour and go at your own pace! Recommended for people who like to take a lot of photos without feeling rushed.

St. Mary’s Priory and Cathedral

The original Coventry Cathedral was St. Mary’s Priory and Cathedral, founded in 1043 by Leofric, Earl of Mercia, and his wife, Lady Godiva. It was a Benedictine monastery and had one abbot and 24 monks.

Priory Garden with Holy Trinity Coventry church behind it

The Priory was actually built on the ruins of a Saxon nunnery founded by St. Osburg; basically this whole area is just church built on top of churches for several hundred years. 😉 St. Mary’s suffered extensive damage during the Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII in the 16th century and eventually fell into ruin.

Priory Gardens with covered ruined column stubs. There’s a paved walkway around the ruins which makes it easy to view.

These ruins were uncovered in the 20th century and some parts are available for viewing by the public. The easiest ones to see are on Google Maps as the “Priory Garden.”

Priory Garden with some remaining gravestones from the Holy Trinity Church graveyard extension, which was moved to the old London Road Cemetery in 2000.

The garden was practically empty when I visited, and tbh I nearly didn’t find it because it just looks like an empty park behind a church and I thought I was in the wrong place. Tricky! It’s interesting that the column stubs (or whatever they are) are under plexiglass but the old gravestones are just exposed to the elements.

Cofa’s Tree, a piece of public art created by Chris Browne.

St. Michael’s Church

After St. Mary’s fell to ruin, the church of St. Michael’s was built in the 14th century and became Coventry’s new parish church. It was known for its Gothic towering spire, which at 295 feet was one of the tallest in England. Finally, in 1918 the church was elevated to cathedral status, the first in Coventry since St. Mary’s closure 400 years before.

Coventry Cathedral tower, spire and outer wall.

During the Coventry Blitz of World War II, on the night of November 14, 1940, St. Michael’s was heavily bombed by the German Luftwaffe. The majority of the building was destroyed, leaving only the tower, spire, and outer wall standing. These ruins were preserved as a memorial, and are open to the public.

Inside are statues and other monument called “symbols of reconciliation” which represent the church’s mission.

Ecce Homo, carved in the 1930s by Jacob Epstein and gifted by Lady Epstein.
Provost Richard Howard had the words “Father Forgive” inscribed on the wall behind the altar of the ruined building after the 1940 bombing.
Reconciliation Sculpture by Josefina de Vasconcellos. Replicas can be found found at the Peace Garden at Hiroshima, the gardens of Stormont and in Berlin.

There are quite a few interesting little bits around the cathedral ruins, most with informative plaques explaining what they were in the past. It was fun to wander around trying to figure out what the church used to look like before it was destroyed.

It wasn’t very busy when I visited, though I did spot a few small tour groups wandering around. Because the museum and tower are run by volunteers, if you happen to visit on a day that nobody’s there then there’s no way to get inside– which is what happened to me, unfortunately.

The New Coventry Cathedral

The new Coventry Cathedral was constructed next to the ruins of St. Michael’s. The foundation stone was laid in 1956 and the cathedral was consecrated in 1962. It’s a modernist style building which surprisingly works well next to the Gothic architecture of the Cathedral ruins behind it.

Exterior of the new cathedral.
The intriguingly-designed Chapel of Unity

I didn’t actually go into the new church when I visited, which I kind of regret because the interior apparently has some nice windows and modernist architecture.

Final Thoughts

It was very interesting visiting all these historical religious sites, and the Cathedral ruins in particular were fascinating. I’d say give yourself at least an hour to go see the ruins and the gardens, and another hour if you’re going inside the new church, the Blitz Museum and up the tower. You can also stop by and see lots of neat old buildings on the way to/from the gardens and the cathedral– there’s plenty of historic info plaques explaining what each house was over the years. Very easy to get sucked into wandering down a side street and forgetting what you originally aimed to see!

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Anastasia is a former librarian turned digital nomad. She's been traveling the world full time for two years and has visited 18 countries so far! Just Gone Wandering is a travel resource for solo female travelers on a backpacker's budget-- or slightly more-- and highlights amazing places to visit as well as providing tips and tricks for traveling smart and frugal. Read more...

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