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St Teilo’s Church

July 2011

#deddfuno roundup

Posted by Sara Huws on 26 July 2011

Just a quick post to say thanks very much to all who attended the #deddfuno debate, both in person and online! We had a great day, a refreshing debate and a chance to share new theories and research with a wider audience. If you'd like to catch up, you can find quotes from the day here.

Historian Nia Powell gave us plenty to mull over, as well as some very provocative propositions, and our multi-party panel was happy to get stuck in to the difficult topics which which they'd been presented. What could have been yet another debate along the same old lines was given a lease of new life.

You have until the end of the month to come and see the document itself, at the Making History 1500-1700 Exhibition. I'll let you know in due course what will be replacing the document. The only clue I'll give you now is that it might be something to do with this.

Special Event Tomorrow: Behind the Scenes with the Acts of Union

Posted by Sara Huws on 21 July 2011

Tomorrow, you are invited to come and join us for unprecedented behind-the-scenes access to the most important document in Welsh legal history: The Acts of Union.

Parts of the document have left London for the first time since 1536, and are on display in our 'Making History 1500-1700' exhibition. They have been recalled from their recess, and will be going back to the Parliamentary archives soon. In light of this, we are calling an emergency debate of our own!

Figures from Welsh life will be leading the afternoon, including:

  • Suzy Davies

- Conservative AM for South Wales West, Shadow Minister for Welsh Language and Culture

  • Mark Drakeford

- Labour AM for Cardiff West

  • Dafydd Ellis Thomas

- Plaid Cymru MP for Dwyfor-Meirionydd, Chair of the Assembly Commission

  • Vaughan Hughes- Commentator and Broadcaster
  • Nia Powell
  • - Lecturer in Welsh History, University of Bangor
  • Baroness Jenny Randerson
  • - Welsh Liberal Democrat Member of the House of Lords
  • Eirug Salisbury
  • - Bard and Commentator
  • Rev John Walters
  • - Vicar of St Teilo's Church, Pontarddulais


We'll be exploring the role of the Acts of Union in the 21st Century, as well as the controversies they still raise. You're welcome to join us, as the day winds its way around many of Museum Wales' most iconic spaces - including St Teilo's Church at St Fagans: National History Museum.

Period music, light refreshments, after-hours access, simultaneous translation and a chance to explore the Act of Union up close are included, free of charge.

Meet at National Museum Cardiff foyer at 1.50pm tomorrow, as the afternoon session will take place in the Reardon Smith Lecture Theatre at 2pm.

This will be followed by a trip to St Fagans to see the document 'in the flesh', and to look at contemporary objects from our 'Making History' exhibition. A discussion will be held in St Teilo's Church, looking at the broader European context of life in Wales under Henry VIII.

Please call Heledd Fychan on (029) 20 57 3268 to reserve a place, as they are limited.

You will need to provide your own transport to St Fagans for the 'behind the scenes' session. Buses Nos 32 and 322 depart from Stand D2 in the City Centre, to St Fagans at regular intervals.

June 2011

Hidden Splendour

Posted by Sara Huws on 23 June 2011

Good morning. I can't stop long as there are many tasks to carry out this morning: light the incense, set up the processional cross, chalice and paten and get into 1520s costume. That itself is no mean feat, and I got up early to braid my hair medieval-style today, too. One of the Tudor Group showed me how when they were here over Easter, and she made it look really simple! I haven't quite got the hang of it, but it looks medieval enough. I hope to be up to speed for our Tudor Fashion event next month, so practice makes perfect.

Meanwhile, I am preparing a film of last year's re-enactment for the gallery's 1500-1700 exhibition. Some of my favourite Tudor objects from our collection are on display, including both surviving Rood figures from pre-reformation Wales. The Cemmaes (Kemeys) Rood was found hidden in a wall in the 1850s. Not much is known about how it came to be there. What is certain is that it's a very, very rare artefact relating to Wales' religious past.

Rood Figure
Rood figure detail

Conservator and all-round Renaissance lady Penny Hill has worked on the sculpture, and will be joining us on Saturday to tell us more about this mysterious object. An expert on pigments and the colour of the past, Penny will be looking at the sculpture's links to places and people beyond the small parish where it was found.

Natural pigments used in the decoration of sculptures

I hope you'll join us on Saturday, 2pm, in Oriel 1 at St Fagans. More information is available, Monday to Friday, on 029 20 57 3424

May 2011

Bladderblog 2: Slimy Trials and Smelly Errors

Posted by Sara Huws on 9 May 2011

Reader, I blew it.

It took a bit of practice but the Learning Department now has in its possession a brand new bladder football. At the end of the Misrule! weekend, it was tested rigorously by some of our 5 and 6 year-old visitors, and found to be satisfactory. Over the three days, we had some failed attempts; some almost-worked attempts; and finally, a fine, egg-shaped ball which made a satifying, basketball-like 'donk' noise when bounced on the floor.

Tudor Sport Demo, May Misrule!
Here's me passionately explaining how normal my job is. Not really, it's me holding a pig's bladder!

Now, this installment of Bladderblog comes a bit later in the process than I anticipated, because it is hard to live-blog something while dressed as a Tudor. As you'll see above, under my skirt is the only place I can hide anything, and I'm sure you couldn't get a computer under there. So, despite the new/old technology hiccup, I hope you'll enjoy this latest foray into sporting history...

The bladders themselves arrived frozen, in an ice-cream tub. A natural by-product of slaughter for meat, the bladders would be discarded otherwise, as they are not very appetising. Once out of the tub and into brine, they remsembled big poached eggs. To touch, they were slimy, slippery and quite tough - not dissimilar to sausage casing, but perhaps a bit thicker and harder to swallow! The farmer said that 'of all the strange requests' he's ever received, this was the strangest. He also said we were 'all mad', but was happy to see his pigs get put to a variety of uses after their slaughter. The meat, I am informed, has gone to make posh salami.

Blowing the 'practice bladder' up at home using a very long curly straw worked well. I cured the ball with salt, sanitized my hands and then slapped myself on the back: I had successfully avoided having to lip-lock with any part of a pig (a good job as the bladders came with a few stray hairs).

A pig's bladder football hanging on a washing line
Here it is, drying in the sun!

Then it burst, mid-demo, on Friday. I plundered my (very well-hidden) Aldi bag for another and spent lunchtime making the ball with the tools I had at my disposal: salt, string and a feather. Now, trial and error is usually a fine way to learn. On the other hand, bladdersplashback is something to be avoided at any cost. Using the bottom part of a feather as a straw, I attempted the Tudor way of blowing up a bladder. It was really quite unpleasant. Really, really unpleasant, actually. But it was over quickly.

Pig's bladder football
The finished football, complete with wiry hair!

I was keen to explore the 'nose to tail' ethos of Tudor farming and manufacturing, and so talked to all sorts of people who are still using these traditional techniques and principles in their work. Amongst them was Peg the skinner, who had an array of skins and historic animal-derived products on display last weekend, from hedgehog brushes to Tudor prophylactics. I will be posting about what I found out in the coming weeks. Some very beautiful, and probably more traditional uses for animal products can be found in our Making History 1500-1700 exhibition, too. I was particularly enthralled with this pair of leather gloves from around 1600: each part is silk-lined (another animal by-product!), and embroidered with detailed, erm, animals. I chose the squirrel detail today because, well, because I like squirrels.

Gloves, Making History 1500-1700
Detail from leather glove, from Llanfair Hall, near Caernarfon. They are made from leather, lined with silk, and embroidered with silk and metal thread.

I hope you'll join me for the next installment of Bladderblog - and let me know if you fancy a kickabout in the meantime!

Update: Two more articles popped up last weekend seemed to complement our bladding-about, so I'll leave them at the bottom here, so you can have a look!

The Lure of Eccentric Sports on BBC online.

BoingBoing's Mummifying Chickens for Fun and Educational Profit (not as grim as it sounds).

Making History - The Acts of Union

Posted by Sara Huws on 5 May 2011
Just a quick note to let you know that something special is afoot at St Fagans.
Keep an eye out on Wales Today, BBC1 Wales, at 6.30 tonight for more information!
The Acts of Union
The Acts of Union

March 2011

Bladderblog 1: The Risk Assessment From Hell

Posted by Sara Huws on 30 March 2011

Earlier this year, the Making History events team set themselves a challenge: to create a spectacle for children, all about Tudor life. Specifically, those elements of Tudor life which encite a 'yeeeeeuurgh' from children - and a raised eyebrow from grown-ups. And thus, the concept for Mayday Misrule! was born.

Children's history isn't always easy to interpret, especially since kids are always disproportionately affected by social inequality. Child labour, lack of education or sanitation, are all very tricky subjects which might crop up when we look at the world of the child in the past.

It is, however, an important field to explore, as it addresses human rights, family dynamics, comfort, identity and much more. They are sometimes things which we might think difficult to explain to a young, enquiring mind. But, as Learning Department fave, Teacher Tom says, "Viewing disaster at a distance gives [us] an opportunity to calmly lay down a little philosophical groundwork to prepare for when tragedy strikes closer to home.".

It would be very easy to tell our young visitors that they've "never had it so good" and leave it at that, but we wanted to engage and delight, not make them feel guilty for having Xboxes.

And that is the slightly wordy explanation of why, this week, I find myself phoning up abattoirs looking for pigs' bladders.

Pig's bladder
Yes, you heard me: pig's bladders

During 'Misrule!', there'll be Tudors to be found all over the museum: from surgeons, archers and pipers to cooks, skinners and wise women. I will become Sara the servant: not a massive stretch, but it will involve wearing the wooden corset again, joy of joys! My job will be to show the Tudor sporting life - confirming, as my purple face did after my first-ever 'jog' on Saturday, that I like my sports a little rough, but mostly extinct.

As part of my talk, I will be demonstrating how to make a football using a bladder. It's a traditional skill which outlived the Tudors, as there are plenty of staff here at the Museum who remember playing with a bladder ball. Unfortunately, none of them remember making one: It was a skill that their grandparents had, but did not pass on. When the time came to learn, mass-produced plastic footballs were cheap and readily available, and there was really no need to learn how best to wrap your lips round a dead pig's urethra.

All of which leads on smoothly to the next bit: Health and Safety! The implications are weighing on my mind a bit - not only because the public will be there, but because I don't want to come down with some sort of horrible disease and end up like a porcine version of Jeff Goldblum in The Fly. The Re-enactors I've spoken to swear by salt water to kill any bacteria, but written information is very thin on the ground. Before I decide on my method for this expermient, then, I'm going to cast my net a bit wider... Dear reader(s): have you any tips at all on procuring, and safely handling, a pig's bladder? Please post them in the comments box!

I will be posting updates as I go about learning these techniques, so I hope you'll look forward to the next installment of Bladderblog!

February 2011

Skull-cup roundup

Posted by Sara Huws on 23 February 2011

It seems like Skull-Cups are all the rage this month.

The media loves a history-story with a bit of 'ick' to it, and the recently-discovered human remains from Cheddar Gorge struck a chord last week. Reports of our 'cannibalistic' ancestors appeared on the Beeb, the Guardian and even über-cool hangout Boing Boing. The skulls found in Gough's Cave were almost 15,000 years old, and were, according to experts, probably used as ceremonial goblets.

Fast forward around 14,000 years, to 1057CE (or 1057AD, depending on how you take your history). That's when an amazing piece of skull-cup history starts, and right here in Wales.

Far from the media's imagined early-mannibal, drinking blood from his familiar's head; this cup is a piece of Welsh history with refined, aristocratic associations. In fact, the skull was even set in silver by Garrard's of London, and supposedly once sat on the saintly shoulders of one of Wales' most popular men: St Teilo.
The skull, that is, not the cup.

The Mathew family, who lived in South Wales, took on the guardianship of Teilo's Skull just before the Battle of Hastings. By now, it is held in Llandaf Cathedral, and it can be viewed by appointment. I popped down last week to take a few photos of it for this Saturday's Holy Relics!talk.

It is currently sealed behind glass, to prevent the corrosion of the silver parts, and so I hope you'll forgive me for the reflections in my photos! I do like the fact that the curious custodian's shadow turns up in a few of them, like a ghost in a suit!

Teilo's Skull
St Teilo's Skull-Cup, Llandaf Cathedral

The skull itself was handed down from generation to generation, carrying with it a tradition which goes back to the early Church and its practices. The body, or even part of the body, of a Saint was seen as a high-status object. Many churches have built their reputations thanks to the presence of bones in their altars, reportedly belonging to important Christians.

The veneration of relics still takes place, as does the exchange of these very sensitive objects. Ebay even has an advisory page on how to buy and sell your relics without commiting the Catholic sin of Simony, which is selling the human remains of a saint. A glance at Interpol's Stolen Art Register (possibly one of the most interesting corners of the web, found here) shows that icons and relics, from many different religions, are still powerful objects which fascinate buyers - scrupulous or otherwise.

Today, I'm writing up my talk for Saturday - it's the point at which I get really excited, but before the information quite settles into a coherent sequence.
Maybe it's time for a cup of tea...

This weekend's free events: St Fagans roundup!

Posted by Sara Huws on 11 February 2011

There's so much happening at St Fagans tomorrow, I thought I'd just round up for your convenience! Entry to St Fagans: National History Museum is free of charge, as are our events and activities, but you will have to stump up some change for the parking (£3.50). Better still, take the cycle path to Fairwater and follow the railway, or catch the 320 bus from Cardiff Central and you'll be delivered right to our door.

As usual, our craftspeople will be working in the historic buildings: tomorrow, you can catch familiar faces Geraint and Geraint (the miller and clog-maker respectively) demonstrating traditional techniques. You can even take a bag of our 'Melin Bompren' flour home with you (it makes very good blonde-beer bread, I'm told). Our clog-maker is always happy to take orders for his custom-fit, traditional shoes, available in some non-traditional colours, too!

As usual, our agricultural team will be feeding the pigs at 3.30 down at Llwyn yr Eos Farm. There'll be a few special events, too, catering for all sorts of interests:

Celebrating St Teilo's Day (10-1, 2-3) will take place in St Teilo's Church. I will be doing a bit of storytelling, using our beautiful carving of Teilo's story: have a look at it beforehand here, if you like. I will also be doing my best to answer any questions you may have about the wall-paintings, pigments, Tudor sports, or wherever else your curiosity leads you.

Short Stories, Poems and Songs (2-3) will take place in Oriel 1, in the company of writer Paul Burston. Marking the launch of Museums Wales' first-ever go at LBGT history month; performances, readings and song will look at and celebrate what it is to be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender in Wales today. The Community Dresser display has also been updated by support group Gay Ammanford, showing objects relevant to their lives.

So, something for everyone, or, what's known as: another day in the office at St Fagans!

History in living technicolour

Posted by Sara Huws on 7 February 2011
It's been a while since I last updated you about the goings on at St Teilo's Church. Things have been quietly ticking away over the winter months, with visitors from all over the world still curious to see the colourful gem in the woodlands at St Fagans.

Tudor Group

Time, then, for an update! We've got a year full of activities and live displays, all centered around the period between 1500-1700: a must-see for anyone interested in the lives of the Tudors and Stewarts, and the Civil War.

I'll direct you, first, to the St Fagans events list, where you can find out more about each individual event we're holding this year. All events are free of charge, and quite a few of them will be part of our exciting new Creu Hanes/Making History project.

We have been beavering away, working on a very special exhibition to launch the Making History project, and the events will be the cherry on top of a year packed with exciting, user-friendly developments at St Fagans: National History Museum. Some of the best-known historical performers and researchers in the UK will be here throughout the year to bring 1500-1700 to life, in a way that only St Fagans can.


I will post a full list of Making History events in due course, but as a taster, I'll leave you with these images. At the top of the post are the Tudor Group, who will be living in Hendre'r Ywydd Uchaf longhouse over Easter, bringing St Teilo's and the surrounding woodland to life. Below, are the Towton Battle boys and their friend, who will be taking part in a gory, smelly and all-round 'orrible festival for children, called Misrule!. We also have Tudor fashion shows, cookery, punishments and much more, coming up. I may as well use this little corner of the web to let you know that there's something very special coming up for anyone interested in the Civil Wars. Keep your eye on this blog and I'll keep you in the loop!

November 2010

Tudor Music at St Teilo's Church

Posted by Sara Huws on 17 November 2010
Just a quick post to let you know that our first ever Liturgical Re-enactment at St Teilo's is now online.

Lead by the Centre for Research in Early Music, University of Wales Bangor and Exeter University, this was an attempt to see if the rites of pre-Reformation Wales could be performed in our day today. They were interested to see what kind of questions and problems came up, as well as testing their theories on how Christians worshipped in Tudor Britain. We hope you like the outcome:

You can find more information on the project here.

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