Many people think Coventry only has two cathedrals: the fantastic modern one and the ruins of the adjacent one destroyed during World War II, the Cathedral of St. Michael. However, there are actually the ruins of a third cathedral in the area.
St. Mary’s Priory Cathedral was founded in the 12th century. It became Coventry’s first Cathedral in 1102, pre-dating St. Michael’s by several hundred years. It was the only English cathedral destroyed as a result of the Protestant Reformation. This was because it had joint status as both a cathedral and a monastic institution. As such, it was closed and then destroyed as a result of Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries.
During the dissolution, the acquisitive king offered the cathedral to the people of Coventry—for a hefty price. Unable to raise sufficient funding, the people had to watch their cathedral, which had already been robbed of its assets, be destroyed. Stone and other items were removed and used for other purposes.
In the late 1990s, the local authorities decided to redevelop part of the cathedral site as a public park and instigated an archaeological dig in 1999. It reached the original floor, 12 feet below the current ground level, and was able to reveal and identify many structures. Excavation also revealed remains of a body in a grave just inside the chapter house door. Archaeological studies continued into the new millennium, and in December 2000 a 14th-century mural was discovered.
Parts of the excavated ruins are now open to the public. One can walk through, or, for a better overview, walk above on the wooden walkways. A visitor center contains some of the excavated artifacts. As of 2017, volunteers dressed as monks were offering guided tours.
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