An experience of reverence at Candes-Saint-Martin, France

One winter night, Martin, the son of a Roman officer, shared his cloak with a beggar. The following night, Christ appeared to him, dressed in the half of the cloak he had given to the poor man. The vision hastened his baptism. Saint Martin has been honoured by people all over the world for over 1 600 years.
Class 2 children are past the imitation phase. Although they are still innocent, they are ready to explore the dual aspect of their nature. They live in the feeling realm, which vascillates between sympathy and antipathy, which in turn are linked to saintliness and mischievousness (seen in the children themselves and in others). This may be a little unsettling for parents and teachers, and requires us to look for creative responses.
The child’s imagination around 8 and 9 is ignited by rich archetypal images and she/he delights in the mystery of the spiritual world, where she/he still dwells at heart.
Steiner recommended the use of parables to approach the soul of the child by the spiritual content of the parables. The child can feel the inherent ‘laws of existence’ rather than merely grasp concepts. The Waldorf curriculum is designed so that the child is identified and reflected in the stories.
This is where the saints come in – saints are special in that they nourish the soul of the child. Instead of speeches about morality, messages are given through stories of the saints. These stories inspire children because saints have had to stand for their ideals – often in a struggle against the world. When the children hear the stories, they identify and feel admiration and reverence. The stories of the saints and their lives appeal to the children’s moral sense of what is right, good and magical, and allow children to connect with the higher qualities within themselves: charity, goodness, service, empathy and love, which are the essence of the lives of the saints.
A family in our class recently visited the picturesque village of Candes-Saint-Martin in the Loire Valley in central France.
Here follows an account of their experience related specifically to the Class 2 curriculum;
“On a rainy day in June, we were returning from the city of Saumur when we read about a village that was ‘amongst the most beautiful in all of France’, famous for narrow streets, beautiful flower boxes and – at its heart – the church of Saint Martin.
“Saint Martin,” said our son, perking up after a hard morning slogging up and down the draughty stone steps of Saumur Castle. “We learned about him in school. He cut his cape in two and gave half to a beggar.”
We read a bit further in the guidebook and, sure enough, the village was home to the church where Saint Martin died in 397. It is still an important resting point for pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela in Spain.
Sometimes referred to as the thirteenth apostle, Saint Martin is central to early Christianity: the word ‘chapel’ is derived from ‘cappa’, a reference to his cape. As our son had missed a week of school to come to France, we thought it only right to make the slight detour to visit.
The church is imposing, with large, heavy doors and flagstones worn smooth by the tread of centuries of pilgrims. There is an aura of deep quiet there, despite the exhausted travellers who even now come to rest on its steps.
The effect of this atmosphere on our two children was immediate and obvious. Wide-eyed, they slowly, quietly and with great respect walked through the ancient chapel, taking in the beautiful stained glass windows, and the many representations of Saint Martin cutting his cape for the beggar, and the deep quiet. There was little said between us; each child seemed on their own inner journey.
I was so moved that they were able to absorb the sense of reverence that such a place inspires. And how different from the mischievous, ego-driven play that was also in abundant supply at other times during our holiday!
Knowing that we could rely on their appropriate behaviour, we were able to seek out quite a few quiet places during our time in the region – a favourite being the cathedral in Périgueux. The statues of Catholic saints surround the interior of this awe-inspiring cathedral, and at their feet are the many candles visitors light in prayer. On our second visit there, our son revealed another moment of sensitivity when he insisted on buying and placing a candle at the feet of Joan of Arc, because on that day, she alone had received only one small flame.
We feel immensely privileged to have visited places so old and sacred. It is through the wisdom of Waldorf schooling that we were moved to deepen our experience as tourists, and that our children were able to take into their experience the qualities of reverence and respect.”
Warm wishes
Yolanda Terry – class 2 teacher & Nicola Rijsdyk