Friday was a journey through the middle ages - one of my favorite topics to work on with students. I really wish I had a time machine, but we come as close as we can.
First stop was the Cathedral of St. John in the Wilderness in downtown Denver. It is an Episcopal church built from 1906 to 1911 in the gothic style. We sat out in the garden and looked at the outside. We talked about the fall of Rome and romanesque style arches, the rediscovery of Plato, how the parable of the cave was reinterpreted through a Christian lens and how this influenced gothic style. I asked my students to think about what daily life for a medieval peasant was like. I asked the students to pay attention to how they felt when they walked into the Cathedral and notice where there eyes looked first. It was a lot of talk. My students diligently drew little maps of the Mediterranean and took notes.
I must admit, I get such a nice feeling of satisfaction when I hear the students catch their breath in amazement.
“Up!” said one student in a hushed voice, “they want you to look up!”
“Look at all the light!” said another.
“It’s so much bigger inside!” exclaimed a third in an awed whisper.
We spread out a copy of the Hereford Mappa Mundi from the 13th century on the floor in the middle of the transept and talked about how the educated people of western Europe pictured themselves and their place in the world at that moment in time. We climbed the circular stairs in a tower to the choir loft. We looked through arrow slit windows. We talked about the vulnerabilities of castles and surviving a siege. We went to the library and held the leaves of illuminated manuscripts handwritten on vellum. We finished at the art museum looking at changes in style from the 13th to the 16th centuries. We talked about what people will think of us seven centuries from now.
It was an amazing day.
But it was that moment, when they caught their breath, that the experience of another time became real for my students.
That is my favorite thing.