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.

Lisa Power
Head of Events & Participation, York Minster


One response

  1. Thank you, Lisa, for a very interesting blog. The lack of storage must be a real issue but you seem to be rising above the pressures and constraints with enthusiasm and creativity to the benefit of your young visitors! Keep up the excellent work!

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