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- New Beginnings for York Minster’s Learning Offer, by Lisa Power
Read all about the new learning experiences being offered to visitors to York Minster this month, written by our guest blogger, Lisa Power…
I think like many cathedrals and cultural organisations the journey to “normality” post Covid has at times been rather bumpy. At York Minster sadly, we saw the departure of long serving colleagues in the learning team in the pandemic and a move from the Learning Centre based in St. William’s College on the precinct into St. Stephen’s Chapel in the cathedral. These events had led to a hiatus of the schools offer. Thankfully, we are now at the tantalising stage where we are on the precipice of launching new, immersive learning sessions in the cathedral.
Our colleague Alex went on maternity leave in the spring and when she returns, she will join two new colleagues: Learning Manager, Will Burnham and Learning Officer, Ruth Hurren. Will studied archaeology and has had a career in museum and heritage learning. He has been very excited to learn about how builders and crafts people constructed and adorned the cathedral over the centuries. Ruth previously worked as a secondary RE teacher, and her enthusiasm for York Minster and creative approach to learning is a joy to behold. Both have really enjoyed facilitating family activities in Dean’s Park this summer and are relishing delivering learning sessions in the cathedral itself.
Delivering a learning experience outside of a dedicated learning space presents some major opportunities and challenges. Obvious challenges centre around the wide range of activity that can occur in the cathedral space, from services to building/conservation works to a public offer for general visitors to the site. Delivering a learning offer alongside this can be difficult at times and requires a great deal of compromise and pre-planning. The other significant challenge we have faced vacating St. William’s College and operating purely in the cathedral is the loss of storage space. Tough decisions have had to be made about what resources are to be kept and what resources have had to go.
However, the advantages of delivering an immersive learning experience to pupils in the cathedral space are manifold. A classroom simply cannot replicate the multi-sensory experience pupils can enjoy, from the lingering smells of incense to the multi-coloured light streaming through the windows to the hubbub of tour groups in the background. It demonstrates a living vibrant space where the glass, stonework and adornments are the expression of faith throughout the centuries. These experiences stay with the pupil for their lifetime and being able to facilitate it is the reason why many of the us in the Cathedral Plus network have been attracted to this type of profession.
The learning team have developed three new sessions that respond to the immersive environment of the cathedral.
Creative Creation! (RE and Art & Design KS1-4)
Step into the world of a medieval stained-glass artist.
Using inspiration from the magnificent Great East Window, this session will introduce pupils to the Creation story in Genesis and help them engage with what the story means for Christians today. Pupils will look at other artistic depictions of creation to compare with the stained-glass images. Using this material pupils will be encouraged to make their own creative interpretation of the Creation story.
Pilgrimage in an Hour (History and RE KS3)
Journeys to far off climes, glimpses of holy relics, lots of walking!
In this session pupils will explore the life of a medieval pilgrim by going on their own mini pilgrimage across York Minster. They will learn the key role that the church had in medieval people’s lives and how pilgrimage was seen as a core part of that faith. They will be introduced to York’s own Saint William, learn about his life, his miracles and the strange relics he left behind. The tour concludes with a visit to the Saint himself in the candlelit crypt.
Magnificent Minster Marvels (History KS2-3)
Become a History Detective and discover some of the key characters in the history of York Minster.
This session will focus on discussion, debate, and making informed judgements. Pupils will work together to categorise the characters, place them in chronological order and then decide who might have had the greatest impact in the History of the Minster. The workshop will challenge pupils to express their views, listen to their peers, develop teamwork skills and decide who they would crown their Minster Marvel.
These sessions take the form of forty-five-minute tour and an hour session in Saint Stephen’s Chapel. Resources for the sessions include medieval pilgrim costumes and replica wax limbs that would have traditionally been offered at the tomb of St William of York. We have offered free sessions to local schools for the autumn term. This will enable the team to finesse the offer and evaluate what’s working and what isn’t. In January 2024 we will launch the offer in earnest to UK based schools.
Having schools back for facilitated learning at York Minster is something we are all really looking forward to. Staff and volunteers alike feedback how enriching it is to see the delight on children’s faces as they wend their way through this magnificent building.
Head of Events & Participation, York Minster
- Fellowship in a Field: The Walsingham Youth Pilgrimage 2023 by Jane Southward
Imagine the scene – a field in the middle of nowhere, transformed into a camp site complete with a central big top. From this big top comes the sound of 300+ voices raised in praise of God. Look inside to see teenagers kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament at the moment of consecration and sharing the message of the Gospel. This is the nub of the Walsingham Youth Pilgrimage.
This year the theme was ‘Illuminate: Shining as Lights in the World’. Young people were challenged to become lights for Christ in many different ways and to continue shining in their lives back at home; a message backed up in the daily bible studies. Together, we explored why we should read our bibles, why go to church and bigger questions such as how to pray. It was a joy to share ideas with the pilgrims, who were given cards to take away with ideas for next steps, a bible verse, and a prayer to use at home.
Daily mass in the big top provided the backbone of the pilgrimage, but we did venture to the Shrine itself for a first visit to the Holy House, where each group was able to light a 7-day candle to burn throughout the week for their intentions. We also gathered at the Roman Catholic shrine before walking the Holy Mile in procession, reciting the rosary as we went. Surrounded by wildflowers, in the peace of the countryside, this was incredibly moving. It ended with benediction in the Anglican Shrine grounds in total silence, candle lit and with a beautiful sunset as a backdrop.
However, fellowship with other pilgrims is vital and there was plenty of time to enjoy a film night with barbeque, an Ultimate Frisbee contest, football tournament and skills, and – of course – the activity afternoon. This saw the arrival of a bungee trampoline, human table football, inflatable challenges, parkour workshops and craft activities. There was even an ice cream van! The main area for socialising was The Hub – a huge marquee with table tennis and other games, colouring, a collaborative mosaic project, and the tuck shop.
An event like this does not run itself and there are opportunities to volunteer and help out. Firstly, we have a Ministry Team, who give up 2 weeks of their time to plan and prepare during Prep Week, then to interact with pilgrims during the week, run The Hub and star on stage in a variety of videos and skits. Secondly, the Stewarding Team, who arrive for the event itself, who assist our event management company with safety, marshalling and leading the dancing in the big top.
This was my second ever Youth Pilgrimage and, as last year, it was a privilege to be involved. From managing bookings to obtaining games and liaising with suppliers, the run-up to the event is intense. However, standing in the middle of the field on the first evening with all the tents erected, everyone safely on site and watching the young people socialise and have a good time made the effort more than worthwhile.
It’s never been easier to come to the Walsingham Youth Pilgrimage. You can even book catering and tents! We’d love to see you next year – 5th – 9th of August 2024 – to help us make even more memories.
Jane Southward, Education Officer,
The Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham
- Come and visit us this August!
This post publishes at the beginning of the long school holidays, although you may notice I’ve omitted the word ‘summer’! It actually feels rather autumnal as I write this at the end of July with the wind whipping through the trees and the ground wet underfoot from a recent shower. I do hope, however, that whatever the summer months bring to you, and wherever you may go on holidays or days out visiting, you might take a look at our members’ page, and plan to visit one or more of our sacred places.
Having re-read Laura’s fascinating blog-post from last month, I wonder how many of you have you visited Westminster Abbey and seen the Coronation Chair or studied the Cosmati Pavement in person. Have you experienced the peace of Buckfast Abbey or learned about reconciliation at Coventry? Ever marvelled at the 800-metre-long nave in Liverpool Cathedral?
I wonder how many of our amazing spaces you have visited, stood and looked around in awe, experienced the chill and the thrill of our ancient buildings or immersed yourselves in their history and heritage stories. We have so much to explore and marvel at: stairs, steeples, towers and domes, windows, arches, ceilings, floors, embroidery, sculptures, artwork, mapwork, altars, icons, bricks, stone, simple and ornate.
Our Visitor Engagement Managers and Family Learning teams are busy organising events and activities for all ages this summer, both inside and outside cloistered walls, and we look forward to welcoming you and sharing all sorts of encounters. There are so many experiences on offer: from open air theatres, organ recitals, creative workshops and craft, trails and tours. I’m quite sure there’s an exhibition or entertainment programme hosted by our members that will appeal to every taste! You can even see the whole world at Southall Minster!
Most of our membership are centrally located in our cities and are accessible by public transport, whilst other minsters and abbeys in more rural areas have parking available if you need to drive. There’s even a network of cycle routes – Here’s the link to Cycling UK’s website with further details of turning your bike ride into a pilgrimage!
On that thought, why not buy a Pilgrim Passport as a souvenir of your visit? I designed these booklets to include space for you to record your own thoughts and memories of your experiences in our sacred places, and if you ask at the welcome desk or shop at most of our member sites, they will gladly stamp your passport! The books are on sale in cathedral/abbey shops for just £4.99, and some organisations have an online shop where you can buy before your visit and use the check list inside to plan ahead for your trip.
Plus, of course it would be remiss of me not to mention our raison d’être – significant Christian places of worship where the daily life of prayer and praise has been lived for centuries. Our daily worship and Evensongs are open to anyone to join, to experience the music, ritual and prayerful life of these sacred buildings. The links on our members page will take you to each website where you can look up their service times, and events programme for the coming months.
So, whatever the weather and wherever you go this summer, do take the opportunity to visit us. Grab your passport and post a comment below to let us know where you went and what you enjoyed the most!
Sarah Page, Co-Secretary Cathedrals Plus