Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Norwich Cathedral: Special Days

May 7, 2011 · No Comments

Every so often, the cathedral has special events that are outside of the usual school visits that target families. I’ve done two of these events: Dragon Festival at the Cathedral and Easter Family Days. While these days are fun, they’re not nearly as enjoyable as the school visit days because there’s less interaction with the kids and more with the adults, who usually are curious as to how an American ended up working at the cathedral.

The Dragon Festival day was exhausting (10 to 4:30) and busy. Something like 300 families came through the doors and participated in the dragon hunt that was set up in the cathedral and required them to look closely to find all of the dragons and/or the puppet making that took over the classroom and required (at the busiest times) waiting in a queue for more than an hour. Mostly, I walked around the cathedral and helped families spot the dragons that weren’t that obvious for whatever reason. In a medieval costume. Peter was dressed up as St George and was also walking around helping locate and slay dragons (when he wasn’t napping in the choir stalls, which was adorable) and we’d occasionally team up to show the kids a dragon or explain that one of the so-called dragons in the choir stalls was actually a Wyvern, a mythological cousin of the dragon. My favourite moment was when a young boy, no more than 4 or 5 was frightened a dragon in the stained glass and started crying. His mom and I tried to calm him down and explain there was no need to be afraid. It brought to mind when St Anselm, about 900 years ago, commented on how children are sometimes frightened by dragons in cathedrals. (Yes, I realise I’m a bit of a medieval geek when medieval philosophers come up in a blog, or in real life outside of the classroom…)

The Easter Family Days were a bit different, and quieter. Unlike the Dragon Festival, those attracted to the cathedral over these two days tended to be Christian families whose kids were familiar with the Easter story. While there, they would go around to different stations which were set up to tell the Easter story, do various arts and crafts (mostly colouring and assembling a basket), and then finish up with an egg hunt in the Herb Garden. Nonetheless, there were a few of the younger kids who weren’t sure what to make of the Resurrection. When asked how they would feel if they went to a tomb or grave and it was empty, but their were angels outside of it, one kid replied that he would be afraid of “Zombie Jesus.” Some didn’t even believe in angels, which I thought was interesting; usually, the parents worked to counteract this belief when I tried to talk to the kids about angels and miracles. The second day, I was stationed at the arts & crafts table, along with the other Dickinson volunteers, and the area was jokingly referred to as “The American Section.” Arts & Crafts was the best because it provided a legitimate excuse to spend the day colouring between helping families assemble their baskets before the kids went into the Herb Garden for the egg hunt.While I enjoyed these days immensely, I missed getting to talk about the medieval bits of the cathedral; it was more for the here and now bits of the cathedral, which is great, but I missed talking about the architecture and art and how it functioned. For example, there’s an area in the presbytery where a monk would have been hidden- a sort of Christ in His tomb- and then three days later, he would have “risen.” The medieval pageantry surrounding Easter is incredible and that would have been interesting to see. However, realistically, it’s practically impossible to get families to stay at the cathedral any longer than the hour or so that they were already there without giving them a lot more hands-on activities that kept both parent and child happy. Furthermore, as Juliet has pointed out several times, it’s also a matter of getting passionate and willing volunteers to commit lots of time to the cathedral to help these events go off.

Then, there was the day I was helping out at the Forum for a Religious Education day. Since religious education is required, there are several local groups that try to promote it and promote the different things that schools can do. Since the cathedral is one of the obvious, Juliet is heavily involved in one of these local groups and asked if I could come along and help. I wasn’t sure what I would be doing, but I said sure and pretty much spent the day making sure people knew where to go and answering sometimes weird inquiries about religious education, as well as getting yelled at because it has been threatened in school (by cuts) or because people think its unnecessary. (Personally, I think it’s great because you have to know those around you and their beliefs in order to foster understanding environments.) It was by far one of the most interesting days of my life, especially when a guy told Juliet that “all you religious” are ridiculous and admitted to never being happy about life in general and then gave the single most chipper “Cheerio” I have EVER heard…

The best part of the special days was seeing how a cathedral can stay important in the daily life of a community; it can be an important testament of the past (which I admittedly tend to go to them for when I’m not at one for a service) and a place to bring families together. It’s easy to forget, especially for me, that not everyone gets why it’s important that these amazing structures are respected and used regularly, not to mention studied.

Supervisor: Juliet Corbett


22/2: 10-4:30 (6.5)

24/3: 10-4 (6)

12/4: 10-2:30 (4.5)

13/4: 10-3 (5)

Total: 22

Grand Total: 45

Categories: 2010 Stephenie

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