16 July 2023

The church at Grey Friars in
Coventry was rebuilt twice
and its spire still stands

The spire and tower are all that survive of Grey Friars, the mediaeval Franciscan priory in Coventry (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

Grey Friars was a mediaeval Franciscan priory in Coventry. The original monastic buildings were lost in the Reformation. Until World War II, the spire was part of a 19th century church. The church was destroyed in an air raid during the Coventry Blitz, and the spire is now a café and bar.

The Franciscans or Greyfriars in Coventry are first mentioned in 1234, when Henry III allowed them timber from the woods in Kenilworth to roof or build their oratory or church. As this is only 11 years after these friars were first introduced into England, it shows that Coventry was one of their earliest settlements.

The Franciscan friars became known as the Greyfriars because of the grey colour of the robes worn by the Franciscans. They were known too for their humble churches and conventual buildings. But, as time passed, their supporters made generous donations and built churches on their site.

Later documents show that Ranulf de Blondeville, Earl of Chester, allowed them to build their house on his manor at Cheylesmore, on the south-west side of the city. His nephew-in-law, Roger de Montalt, granted the Franciscan friars of Coventry a site to enlarge their area in 1289.

The Hastings family built a chapel on the north side of the friars’ church ca 1300, and several generations of the family were buried there. John Ward, the first Mayor of Coventry, was also buried in the church of the Greyfriars in 1348. Other mayors who were buried in the Greyfriars church include Henry Dodenhall, mayor, 1365; and Adam Botoner, mayor, 1374-1377 and 1405.

In 1359, Richard II granted the Greyfriars as much stone from the quarry in the Black Prince’s park at Cheylesmore as they needed for their house, and to dig earth for the walls, plaster and a postern gate or secret gate into Cheylesmore Park for the recreation of the friars. However, the key to the gate was to be kept by the warden and was to be used only by friars who were sick.

The base of the tower, once the chancel of Christ Church Coventry, is now a bar (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Grey Friars church stood on a site at the corner of New Union Street and Warwick Lane, in the centre of Coventry. The church was cruciform in shape, with a central tower and spire. This was a medium-sized monastic church, measuring 240 ft long and 60 ft wide. By comparison, the first Coventry Cathedral was about 460 ft long.

The slender spire became one of Coventry’s ‘three spires’, along with Holy Trinity Church and Saint Michael’s Church, later to become the second Coventry Cathedral. Christ Church is the shortest of the three, at 230 ft high, while Holy Trinity stands at 237 ft and Saint Michael’s is 295 ft.

The provincial chapter of the Grey Friars of England met in Coventry on at least four occasions: 1420, 1472, 1489 and 1505.

The Grey Friars of Coventry achieved celebrity with the great sacred drama played under their auspices on the feast of Corpus Christi. These Mysteries outlined Biblical history, with 42 distinct acts, with seven depicting Old Testament scenes and the remainder reenacting New Testament scenes. The English manuscript of these Mysteries, Ludus Coventrie, was written ca 1468 and belonged to the Franciscans of Coventry.

Theatres for the different scenes were mounted on wheels and drawn around the town for different audiences and spectators. Queen Margaret attended in 1456, Richard III in 1484, and Henry VII in 1492. On the last of these occasions it is expressly stated that Henry came ‘to see the plays acted by the Grey Friars.’

By the 16th century, there was a Rood Chapel in the churchyard, and another chapel dedicated to Saint Anne. Grey Friars was bounded by Greyfriars Lane in the east, Cheylesmore Park on the south-east, Warwick lane on the north-west, and the city walls on the south-west.

The Victorian church walls were pulled down in 1950, leaving only the mediaeval tower base and spire (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The friary fell victim to the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1538 during the Tudor Reformation. The corporation made many efforts to prevent the destruction of the church of the Franciscan friars. But on 5 October 1538, John Stafford, the warden, and 10 of the friars signed the ‘surrender’ of their house.

The monastic buildings were torn down. But the tower and spire of the friary church survived for the next 260 years as a feature of Coventry’s skyline, cared for by the city corporation.

The spire was blown down in 1551, and the top was remodelled in 1608 without a spire. The spire was rebuilt and had to be repaired at least twice in the 17th and 18th century. The former monastic lands were initially converted to an orchard, but this was swept away when New Union Street was created in 1820.

The base of the tower had seen a number of uses, and by 1800 it was being used as a pigsty and storehouse.

By the early 19th century, the growing population of Coventry created the need for more churches, and funds were raised to rebuild the church. By then, the city owned the church spire and gave it to the new church, although it took several years to buy up the surrounding buildings and clear the site.

Clearing the area allowed archaeologists to uncover the layout of the original friary, to the south of the church, and the burial ground to the north.

In the end, the available site was much smaller than the medieval church, and the new church was 124 ft long and 55 ft wide. The tower was no longer central, but functioned as the new chancel at the east end of the church.

The foundation stone for the new church was laid on 16 March 1830. Rebuilding was complete by mid-1832, and the new church, Christ Church Coventry, was consecrated on 3 August 1832.

Two plaques on Christchurch spire, one giving a brief history, the other commemorating the naming of Dresden Place (Photographs: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

During World War II, the new church survived the worst raid on 14 November 1940 but was badly damaged in a subsequent raid on 8 April 1941.

The structure was declared unsafe, and what remained of the Victorian walls were pulled down in 1950, leaving only the mediaeval tower base and spire. The tower now stands 211 ft high, with over half of that height taken up by the slender spire.

The site was bought by the city, which restored the tower and spire in 1970. The area was named Dresden Place in 1974 as a symbol of the friendship between Dresden and Coventry ‘born out of wartime destruction and now devoted to international understanding and peace.’

The base of the tower is now a café and bar. At one time, it was cleverly called ‘Inspire (‘in spire’) but today it is known as Dhillon’s Brewery Spire Bar.

Christchurch Spire is near the west end of New Union Street, a few minutes’ walk from the cathedral quarter and the railway station.

Christchurch Spire is a few minutes’ walk from both Coventry Cathedral and the railway station (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Daily prayers in Ordinary Time
with USPG: (49) 16 July 2023

The Church of the Trinità dei Monti stands at the top of the Spanish Steps in Rome (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

We are in Ordinary Time in the Church Calendar, and this is the Sixth Sunday after Trinity (16 July 2023). Later this morning I hope to be at the Parish Eucharist in Saint Mary and Saint Giles Church, Stony Stratford.

Before this day begins, I am taking some time this morning for prayer, reading and reflection.

Over these weeks after Trinity Sunday, I have been reflecting each morning in these ways:

1, Looking at relevant images or stained glass window in a church, chapel or cathedral I know;

2, the Gospel reading of the day in the Church of England lectionary;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

The Spanish Steps lead from the Piazza di Spagna up to the Church of Trinità dei Monti (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Trinità dei Monti, Spanish Steps, Rome:

The church of the Santissima Trinità dei Monti, often called merely the Trinità dei Monti, stands at the top of the Spanish Steps which lead down to the Piazza di Spagna. The church and its surrounding area, including the Villa Medici, are French state property.

Saint Francis of Paola, a hermit from Calabria, founded a monastery for the Minimite Friars here in 1494. Louis XII of France began building the Church of the Trinità dei Monti next to this monastery in 1502 to celebrate his successful invasion of Naples.

The present church was eventually built here and was consecrated in 1585 by Sixtus V, whose Via Sistina connected the Piazza della Trinità dei Monti outside the church to the Piazza Barberini across the city. This has been a titular church since 1587 and has been held ever since by a French cardinal.

The double staircase in front of the church was designed by Domenico Fontana. The Obelisco Sallustiano in front of the church is one of the many obelisks in Rome, and was moved here in 1789.

The kings of France were patrons of the church until the French Revolution and the church continued to be the church of the Minimite Friars until its partial destruction in 1798. During the Napoleonic occupation of Rome, the church was despoiled of its art and decorations. After the Bourbon restoration, the church was restored in 1816 at the expense of Louis XVIII.

By diplomatic Conventions in 1828, the church and monastery were entrusted to the Religieuses du Sacré-Coeur de Jésus (Society of the Sacred Heart), a French religious educational order.

Early in the 21st century, the order decided to withdraw from the Trinità and in 2005, the Vatican and the French Embassy agreed to transfer the church, convent and school to the Monastic Fraternities of Jerusalem. These communities were founded in 1975 by Brother Pierre-Marie Delfieux with the aim of promoting the spirit of the monastic desert in the heart of cities.

The communities’ Rule of Life, advices, ‘Be vigilant to keep in your heart a true concern for communion with all the sons of Abraham, Jews and Muslims, who are like you worshippers of the one God and for whom Jerusalem is equally a holy City.’

Close to the church, at the bottom of the steps, the Column of the Immaculate Conception is a 19th-century monument in Piazza Mignanelli, towards the south-east part of Piazza di Spagna. It stands in front of the Palazzo di Propaganda Fide and the offices of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples.

The column was designed by the architect Luigi Poletti, commissioned by Ferdinand II, King of the Two Sicilies, and was dedicated on 8 December 1857. Since 1953, the Popes have visited the monument each year the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and offered a bouquet of flowers at the base of the column.

The fresh water fountain at the bottom of the Spanish Steps, the Fontana della Barcaccia (‘Fountain of the Ugly Boat’), was commissioned by Pope Urban III and built by father and son Bernini.

Babington’s English Tea Rooms is a traditional English tea shop at the foot of the Spanish Steps, in the Piazza di Spagna. The shop was founded in 1893 by Isabel Cargill and Anne Maria Babington with the intention of catering for the many English-speaking people in Rome.

Isabel Cargill was a granddaughter of Captain William Cargill (1784-1860), the founder of Dunedin in New Zealand; Anna Maria Babington was a descendant of Anthony Babington, who was hanged for plotting against Queen Elizabeth I. Their tea shop remains a ‘must-see’ site for many tourists and visitors to Rome.

The Column of the Immaculate Conception, close to the Spanish Steps, was dedicated on 8 December 1857 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Matthew 13: 1-9, 18-23 (NRSVA):

1 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the lake. 2 Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3 And he told them many things in parables, saying: ‘Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. 5 Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. 6 But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. 7 Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8 Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9 Let anyone with ears listen!’

18 ‘Hear then the parable of the sower. 19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. 20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21 yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. 22 As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. 23 But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.’

Babington’s Tea Rooms beside the Spanish Steps … a ‘must-see’ for many visitors to Rome (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayer:

The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), is ‘Abundant life – A human right.’ This theme is introduced today:

‘Abundant Life is a programme that USPG has been supporting since 2019 alongside the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI). It seeks to empower the Filipino Church to respond to the issues indigenous people face. The IFI had been standing in solidarity with indigenous people for many years prior and Abundant Life builds on the work those ministries have already established. The programme operates in three areas: Manila, the Caraga Region of Mindanao and the Western Mindanao Region.

‘Throughout the history of the Philippines, indigenous people have been subjected to discrimination, violence and human rights abuses. Some communities have been forcibly removed from ancestral lands. Many live below the poverty line - “abundant life is not a reality in the Philippines today”.

‘Abundant Life’s approach is two-fold. Alongside indigenous communities, it offers education and advocacy: people can explore and learn more about their rights whilst lobbying the authorities when these rights are threatened. Within the church, Abundant Life mobilises Christians to stand in solidarity with indigenous peoples and fight for a more just society.’

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (16 July 2023, Trinity VI) invites us to pray in these words:

Lord, may we secure justice and equality for every human being,
an end to all division,
and a human society built on love and peace.


Merciful God,
you have prepared for those who love you
such good things as pass our understanding:
pour into our hearts such love toward you
that we, loving you in all things and above all things,
may obtain your promises,
which exceed all that we can desire;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion:

God of our pilgrimage,
you have led us to the living water:
refresh and sustain us
as we go forward on our journey,
in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Fontana della Barcaccia (‘Fountain of the Ugly Boat’) was commissioned by Pope Urban III and built by father and son Bernini (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org