Living Reconciliation – 75 years after the bombing of Dresden

Frauenkirche, Dresden © Ricky Yates

On Sunday 16th February 2020, I was once again preaching in the Frauenkirche, Dresden, at the monthly English-language Anglican service of Evening Prayer. The theme of the service and of my sermon, was the title of this blog post.

As I reminded the congregation at the beginning of my sermon, the previous week had seen the 75th anniversary of the bombing raid by British and US forces, on Dresden. Those bombing raids, on the nights of 13th and 14th February 1945, resulted in the destruction of the historic centre of the city and the deaths of about 25,000 people. As I further reminded the congregation, 75 years ago the previous day, the predecessor of the dome under which they were now sitting, collapsed!

What follows in this blog post, is the bulk of the text of my sermon. Several people who could not be present at the service, have asked me for the text of what I preached. And whilst I normally preach from handwritten notes, rather than a typed out text, I believe what follows is a fairly accurate account of what I said.

I have been responsible for the monthly English-language Anglican service of Evening Prayer at the rebuilt Frauenkirche, since the beginning of 2016. I’m into my fifth year. I regard coordinating English-language Anglican worship at the Frauenkirche as a great privilege – it is an amazing place in which to lead worship and preach. But it is particularly meaningful to me because of my background.

For I come from a city in England which also suffered from a serious bombing raid during World War Two, which resulted in a major loss of life and the destruction of its Cathedral – the city of Coventry. It is where I was born, lived and was educated up to the age of eighteen. I am proud to call myself a Coventrian.

And out of their mutual experience of the horrors of war and aerial bombing, there are now strong links between the cities of Dresden and Coventry, and particularly between the rebuilt Frauenkirche and the new Coventry Cathedral. These links express a desire to build peace and work for reconciliation.


I want to start with Coventry as its experience dates from over four years earlier than that of Dresden. On the night of 14th November 1940, the Nazi Luftwaffe carried out a major bombing raid on the city which resulted in the death of 568 people – a far lower number than in Dresden, but the highest casualty figure for one night’s bombing of any English city. And the destruction of Coventry’s mediaeval Cathedral with its wooden roof and interior being set on fire and destroyed. Amazingly, the tall spire survived, along with most of the outside walls.

The Provost of the Cathedral, (who would now be called the Dean), was a man called Richard Howard. At Christmas 1940, only six weeks after the bombing, Provost Howard spoke on BBC national radio, not of retribution, but instead, that once the war was over, his vision was to work with those who had been enemies, ‘to build a kinder, more Christ-Child-like world’.

The charred roof beam cross & ‘Father, forgive’ © Ricky Yates

Provost Howard also did three significant physical things. He made a cross out of two of the charred roof beams of the Cathedral and erected it behind the altar of the ruined building, now open to the skies. And on the inside of the east wall, behind the altar, he had the words, ‘Father forgive’, carved in the stonework. Both are still there and can be seen today.

I will come to the third thing that Provost Howard did, shortly.

After the end of World War Two, the decision in Coventry was to leave the ruins of the old Cathedral intact, and to build a new Cathedral alongside. The new Cathedral is at a right angle to the ruins, which most unusually means it has a north-south axis, rather the traditional east-west axis.

The foundation stone of the new Coventry Cathedral © Ricky Yates

The foundation stone of the new Cathedral was laid by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on 23rd March 1956 and is my earliest memory. For as well as laying the foundation stone that day, the Queen, along with the Duke of Edinburgh, also visited the Jaguar Car factory in Browns Lane, the street where I lived until I was ten. Thus, the royal motorcade drove past our house twice – first on its way to the factory and then the later return journey. At the time, I was a four year old boy who didn’t even have a television, so you can imagine the impact this had on me!

Just over six years later, on 25th May 1962, the new Cathedral was consecrated. As a ten year old schoolboy, a few weeks later, I attended a Cathedral service for children from Church of England schools within Coventry Diocese.

But back to the third physical act of Provost Richard Howard. Out of three mediaeval metal roof nails, he made a simple cross, of which the one on the Frauenkirche altar immediately behind where I was preaching, is a replica.

The Cross of Nails on the Frauenkirche altar © Ricky Yates

The original sits on the high altar of the new Coventry Cathedral. And this cross is now the symbol of what is known as the Community of the Cross of Nails, linking Churches together, committed to working for reconciliation between those formerly in conflict.

The original Cross of Nails on the high altar of the new Coventry Cathedral © Ricky Yates

Frauenkirche, Dresden

Because at the end of World War Two, Dresden was in the Soviet zone of occupation, which became the satellite communist state of East Germany, despite the desire of the Lutheran Church authorities to do so, the communists were not interested in rebuilding the Frauenkirche. Instead, in 1966, they declared the ruins as a ‘memorial against war’. A few years earlier in 1959, a twinning agreement was signed between the communist authorities in Dresden, and a fairly left-wing Labour Coventry City Council, both vowing to work for peace.

Only after the fall of communism, just over thirty years ago, could the desire to rebuild the Frauenkirche be realised. Work began in 1993 and was completed in 2005. The rebuilt Frauenkirche will celebrate its fifteenth birthday on 30th October later this year.

The Frauenkirche has what in English we would call a ‘Mission statement’. It consists of only six words and is sometimes displayed on a banner outside, on the Neumarkt.

‘Building bridges, living reconciliation, strengthening faith’ © Ricky Yates

Brücken bauen – Building bridges

Glauben stärken – Strengthening faith

Versöhnung leben – Living reconciliation

And it is the work of reconciliation, symbolised by the Coventry cross of nails on the altar, that I want to focus on.

2 Corinthians 5. 11-21

This was the first Biblical reading I chose for the service, part of what is probably the most passionate of St Paul’s letters. In this passage, Paul speaks of reconciliation between us human beings and God. Humanity is fallen/sinful, exemplified by resorting to violence/war to gain what we want.

But ‘one has died for all’ (v14) – Jesus Christ. And anyone who responds to what Christ has done for us on the cross; they are ‘in Christ, there is a new creation.’ (v17) ‘All this is from God who reconciled us to himself through Christ’. (v18a) When we recognise our own failures, then recognise the work of Christ and respond to it in faith and trust, we can be reconciled to God.

But – as a result of all this, ‘he has given us the ministry of reconciliation’ (v18b) and has ‘entrusted the message of reconciliation to us’. (v19b) Christians – followers of Christ, are to be people ‘Living reconciliation’; to be setting an example of reconciliation in practice.

My being able to stand in the pulpit of the Frauenkirche, leading worship and preaching, is reconciliation in practice. It has been made possible because of the Community of the Cross of Nails and because of the ecumenical Meissen agreement between the Church of England and the Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland. Two Churches from two countries who 75 years ago were at war with each other.

Sadly, at a political level, Brexit is starting to undo all the good work achieved by the EU and its predecessor the EEC. For it was set up to prevent further conflict and war, after two World Wars had devastated the continent during the first half of the twentieth century. Yet the British right-wing press in calling for Brexit, still uses the language of fighting World War Two, 75 years after it came to an end.

It is the voice of reconciliation, not division that so needs to be heard. Christians individually, and the Church corporately, need to be that voice.

Matthew 5. 21-24

But reconciliation needs to happen, not just between nations, peoples, Churches – it needs to happen at an individual level. The second Biblical reading I chose for the service is a small part of what we know as the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus gives us the picture of the good Jew who has travelled to Jerusalem to worship at the temple and offer a sacrifice for his sins. ‘So when you are offering your gift at the altar’, seeking reconciliation with God, ‘if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you’, leave your gift there, go and be reconciled, ‘and then come and offer your gift’. (v23-24)

We cannot expect reconciliation with God if we have not first sought to be reconciled with our fellow human beings, especially those we see as enemies or those we find difficult. It is what we pray when we say the Lord’s Prayer. ‘Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us’. And in the Greek text of the New Testament, the sense is, ‘as we have already forgiven those who sin against us’.

We cannot ask or expect God to forgive us our past wrongs and failures, if we have not first sought reconciliation with our fellow brothers and sisters, regardless of nationality, race or colour.


In 1958, some eighteen years after the destruction of the mediaeval Coventry Cathedral, the first Precentor of the new Cathedral, Canon Joseph Poole, wrote a Litany of Reconciliation. As is explained on the Coventry Cathedral website, (and as I have previously explained in this blog), ‘While framed around the seven deadly sins, it serves as a reminder that when we pray about the problems of the world around us, we need to begin by acknowledging the roots of those problems in our own hearts.’ The Litany is said on weekdays at 12noon in Coventry Cathedral and in member Churches of the Community of the Cross of Nails at midday on Fridays, as it is at the Frauenkirche each week.

Therefore my sermon ended by me using the Litany and inviting the congregation to respond to each stanza with ‘Father, forgive’, or if a first language German-speaker, ‘Vater, vergib‘.

The Coventry Litany of Reconciliation

All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

The hatred which divides nation from nation, race from race, class from class, Father, forgive.

The covetous desires of people and nations to possess what is not their own, Father, forgive.

The greed which exploits the work of human hands and lays waste the earth, Father, forgive.

Our envy of the welfare and happiness of others, Father, forgive.

Our indifference to the plight of the imprisoned, the homeless, the refugee, Father, forgive.

The lust which dishonours the bodies of men, women and children, Father, forgive.

The pride which leads us to trust in ourselves and not in you, Father, forgive.

Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.’


Following the service, shaking hands with members of the congregation at the door, I received many expressions of appreciation for my sermon. One lady told me that she had been bought up in the former East Germany, but about thirty years ago, soon after the collapse of the Inner German Border, she had been able to travel to Coventry. She recalled how moved she was to stand in the ruins of the old Cathedral before walking through into the new Cathedral. I have also had expressions of thanks online.

I am very aware that many people were specifically praying for me that day and I felt very much upheld by those prayers. If you were one one those people, please accept my grateful thanks.

Finally, it was encouraging to have a larger congregation than normal on a February Sunday evening. I think that many came specifically because the service was marking the 75th anniversary of the bombing raid and the theme of reconciliation.

10 comments to Living Reconciliation – 75 years after the bombing of Dresden

  • Chris Saccali

    Well done my good and faithful servant.

  • Pauleen Bang

    What a wonderful sermon. Wish I could have been there. Love the Coventry Litany of Reconciliation.

  • Sean McCann

    Ricky this is a powerful message for all humanity everywhere. Sadly it is as much needed today as ever in our torn world. “Oh that today you would listen to His voice, harden not your hearts”. Thank you for your witness to and communication of the Coventry Litany of Reconciliation; there are none of us who can afford to ignore its teachings.
    God Bless,

    • Ricky

      Thank you, Sean. I agree entirely with you that the message of reconciliation is still very much needed in our world today. And thank you too, for your reminder of those powerful words from Psalm 95.

      The Coventry Litany of Reconciliation is very profound and its message is widely appreciated. See the earlier comment from my friend Pauleen. Thanks again for both visiting & commenting.

  • Stephen Weeks

    Beautifully done, Ricky. It is difficult to understand the bombing of Dresden. I don’t think it was just nasty revenge. I believe it was an attempt to show the German people that overnight a most beautiful city could just disappear… and thus it was a clumsy appeal to the Germans to surrender, or next would be Berlin… But it was all to no avail; they kept going, to the bitter end. We will include the Coventry Litany in our prayers at St Clement’s soon… How fortunate it was you, from Coventry, who should be there in Dresden on this important anniversary. Best, Stephen

    • Ricky

      Thank you for your kind words, Stephen, & for visiting and commenting.

      I didn’t address the issue of understanding or attempting to justify the bombing of Dresden. It was & still is, a major transport hub and this is usually offered as justification. But as you rightly say, there was also the belief that it would break the resolve of the people and thus bring about an early end to the war, which sadly, it didn’t.

      The Coventry Litany of Reconciliation is an excellent liturgical tool. It is very appropriate for penitential seasons such as Lent & would be suitable particularly for Ash Wednesday or Good Friday.

      My background of being a Coventrian is one of those very fortunate coincidences which I often prefer to call ‘Godincidences’. Those responsible for asking me, in the summer of 2015, to take on coordinating the monthly English-language Anglican service of Evening Prayer in the Frauenkirche, had no idea of my Coventry connections.

  • June Margaret Taylor

    Interesting Post. The reason the walls and the tower of Coventry Cathedral survived is because it was hit by an incendiary not a bomb. Your big sister, June

    • Ricky

      Hello big sister, June!

      I’m very glad you found this post interesting & thank you for commenting here once again. I was aware that the bomb(s) that fell on Coventry Cathedral were incendiary devices. Hence I wrote, ‘the destruction of Coventry’s mediaeval Cathedral with its wooden roof and interior being set on fire and destroyed’. However, excessive heat from such fires can cause rocks such as sandstone, (of which both Coventry Cathedral & the Dresden Frauenkirche are built), to implode. This is what happened in Dresden with the pillars supporting the dome, disintegrating, causing the dome to collapse. My amazement is that the stonework at the base of the walls & spire of Coventry Cathedral, didn’t similarly implode.