Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: Faith Like a River: A Program on Unitarian Universalist History for Adults

Activity 2: Michael Servetus

Activity time: 20 minutes

Materials for Activity

Preparation for Activity

  • Copy Handout 1, Tumultuous Times in 16th Century Europe.
  • Print out Leader Resource 2, Michael Servetus and familiarize yourself with the material.
  • Print out Leader Resource 3, Michael Servetus, Portrait.
  • Write on newsprint, and post:
    • Do you see Servetus as one of our ancestral "gadflies and rabble-rousers, perpetual malcontents and incurable heretics always inconveniently pushing the boundaries of convention," or as one "who could not with integrity abide imposed belief or imposed religious practice?" (Victoria Safford)
    • What, in the life of Servetus, speaks to your own understanding of Unitarian Universalism?
  • Post the Time Line of UU History from Workshop 1.
  • Optional: Access Raphael's "School of Athens" online. Prepare to project it using the computer or print out the image to pass around.
  • Optional: Download the portrait of Michael Servetus (Leader Resource 3). Prepare the portrait as a digital slide. Copy the questions above into a digital slide. Test the computer and projector.

Description of Activity

Explain that understanding the political, cultural, and religious context of a martyr's death helps us better understand the person's life and the meaning of their actions. If possible, pass around or project the image of Raphael's painting, "School of Athens."

Distribute Handout 1, Tumultuous Times in 16th Century Europe. Add key events to the Time Line of UU History. Invite participants to note themes they observe in the events on the handout. Ask:

  • What are the major conflicts in this time period?
  • Who are the actors in the conflicts?
  • How are the conflicts expressed?

If you are using the Raphael painting, ask:

  • What feeling does the painting engender?
  • How does it speak to any the cultural, political, and intellectual trends of the period?

Ask if participants are familiar with the Unitarian martyr, Michael Servetus and invite them to share their knowledge. Pass around or project the portrait of Servetus (Leader Resource 3). Use Leader Resource 2, Michael Servetus to provide an outline of Servetus' life. Then, read aloud the sentence of Servetus as pronounced by the Syndics in Geneva. Invite participants to listen closely for evidence of Servetus' crimes of heresy that were woven into the sentence. Once the reading is complete, pause for a moment of silence.

Invite participants to turn to a partner and respond to the questions you have posted on newsprint. After five minutes, invite participants to focus their attention on the large group. Invite comments, observations, and responses to the questions.