St Teilo’s Church
They say Rock 'n' Roll is hard on the knees...
... if that's the case, 'they' should try being a Learning Interpreter of Late Medieval History!
No, but seriously: we've had a blast (if that's the right word) up at St Teilo's Church this week, and we haven't finished yet! We'll be performing a lost play, called Y Gwr Cadarn, tomorrow, at 11.30 and 14.00. Anyway, the re-enactment of the Tudor service went well, with participants from all over the world taking part.
The service was 'iterated' (i.e. the sacred words and songs recited) three times, and was also filmed. Keep an eye on this 'ere blog for video updates in the very near future.
Yesterday was particularly special, as members of the public attended the service - some from the area where the church was originally built, near Pontarddulais. Others were practicing Catholics, who, while familiar with some of the rites, were surprised at how moving an experience it was, especially in the presence of the murals.
I was in my Tudor costume, not for show, but to see how comfortable it would be to participate in a Tudor service in an appropriate costume (i.e. one with a wooden corset). There was at least 20 minutes of prostrate kneeling - that's on your knees, with your nose as close to the floor as possible - in the ritual. I felt that I should enter into the spirit of things (no pun intended) to get the most out of the experience. It was, to my surprise, much more comfortable in Tudor costume than in my civvies. Margery Kempe, a woman whose devotional practices were recorded in the 15th Century, describes how you can roll up the front of your dress to create a kneeling cushion. It worked to a degree, but I'm still nursing bruises!
Shortly after the service finished, we were beseiged by a pensioners' trip from South East London. The solemn atmosphere created by the chanting and kneeling was replaced by an impromptu rendition of 'We'll keep a welcome in the hillside'. It was very, very surreal and I may have got a bit too excited - I caught it all on camera, so maybe I'll try making a mashup of both films!
In all seriousness though, The 'Reconciliation of Penitents' was a very moving service, which served in the past to welcome sinners who had been excluded from the community back into the Church. All the clergy, students, singers, academics and anthropologists involved made a huge effort, and I hope they learned as much as I did from the experience. After a short break from all things Tudor (aka a trip to Barry Island), we will be discussing how we can use the footage and audio of the service. What would you like to see?
Latin Service at St Teilo's Church: An Invitation
Numbers are very limited so let me start off by encouraging anyone interested in attending to ring our education booking office on (029) 20 57 3424 to reserve a place. It will take place on the 24th of June, at 11.00.
It will be the first Latin service to take place in St Teilo's Church since it was moved 50 miles down the M4, from near Pontarddulais, to the Museum. Part of a wider conference exploring worship in the Middle Ages, the service will be open to the public, but booking is absolutely essential. The conference is a meeting of experts from around the world, who study the nitty-gritty of everyday life, Latin texts, architecture, archaeology and visual history, to build a fuller picture of what life was like over 500 years ago. We will be testing their theories out, and you are welcome to come and help us!
In a way, the performance will help us at the museum to see whether our reconstruction of the Church - a lengthy process of research, archaeology and good ol' Vitamin Compromise - is right. We'll also be able to help researchers to see whether current theories about the performance of liturgy actually work when you try them out. We've yet to find a real Tudor priest we can phone to check these things out: so the only way to learn, really, is by trial and error. That's until I find a flux capacitor in the collection somewhere, obviously.
Adult Activities in St Teilo's Church
Right, I needed that! After a marathon of Easter activities, two days in sunny Paris were just what the doctor ordered. How I ended up back in the Musée Cluny is anybody's guess.
A busman's holiday, of course, is better than no holiday at all, and I was very happy to revisit a place which has been a source of inspiration for many years. The Cluny (not to be confused with The Clooney, a very different, and possibly imagined museum specialising in the disappearing art of commedia dell'eyebrow) has an unrivalled collection of Medieval artefacts. From eerie headless sculptures, bawdy stained glass and keepsakes dredged from the river Seine, to lush tapestries, bejewelled crowns and priceless manuscripts: it's the kind of place geeks like me go to get goosebumps.
St Teilo's Church seemed to serve a similar role over Easter, as we welcomed visitors old and new to experience 'that feeling' and talk about all things churchy. I was running guided tours focussing on Easter Week in 1520: what would be happening, how things would look (and smell!), and how the paintings and sculptures would have played a role in all this activity. At the last count, over 800 people attended and I was left with a very fuzzy feeling that I'd actually done something to earn my chocolate egg this year.
Later, the south aisle was transformed into a mini-workshop, where budding artists of all ages came to try their hand at traditional painting. Using stencils, ochre, pouncers and some eggy paint, over three hundred Holbeins-in-waiting had a go at making a Tudor portrait, using the same techniques and materials as we used when reconstructing the Church murals. As you will see on Sian's Oriel 1 blog below, there was also a chance to create your own Tudor frame, to display the portrait in all its glory. I think it's safe to say that it was a very enjoyable workshop for all involved, even though I got ochre pigment all over myself, and ended up looking like I'd had an accident with some heavy-duty fake tan.
Thoroughly exfoliated and with my head in the back-to-work position, the cycle starts again: conceiving of events, researching, evaluating, preparing and then waiting, waiting, waiting for you lovely people to ring up and book a place! And since I am in the habit of ending my posts with a shameless plug: here's a roundup of events for adults, taking place around St Teilo's Church in the months ahead.
Art Day for Adults over 50 on 6 May, which includes a traditional pigment workshop, free lunch and materialsand much more! Places are limited, so do ring up in advance to avoid disappointment.
Science and the Medieval Church, 29-31 May: a thought-provoking talk held in St Teilo's Church.
Y Gwr Kadarn, 26 June: the first performance in over 400 years of this rediscovered Welsh gem.
Wales and the History of the World
Presented by rugby lej Eddie Butler, the show presents a refreshing view on what I mentioned in my last post: what makes us, 'us'. You'll see many unusual, interesting and iconic objects from your national collection on display throughout the programme.
Of course, I'm a bit biased but St Teilo's was beautifully shot, and the team was fun to work with. I only wish I'd brought a crate to stand on for my interview, as Mr Butler is a giant! You can see my grinning mug at the 9 minute mark. Hope you enjoy.
It exists, but not according to this...
I was just visiting the St Fagans library, looking to do a little reading up before the Easter tours of St Teilo's Church. A chance encounter and a fleeting chain of thoughts later, I'm here on the blog.
It begins when I bump into a colleague clutching a hefty old book, in the reference section of our research library. Rather cryptically, he tells me "It exists! And it's in here!". Taking the book to one side, he lets it fall open - and rightly it does, on the very page he was looking for.
In my experience, old dictionaries and manuscripts that fall open like that usually contain something very juicy. Finding a page in this way always makes me think of the people who read the book before me. I feel almost as if I am joining a secret club, where generations of readers have sought out and read the same pages carefully. My old art history professor had a story about illuminated Biblical manuscripts, painstakingly drawn and handled by monks. Almost without fail, they will all fall open at the same page: where Bathsheba is described in the bath. Thankfully, I wasn't confronted with anything as lascivious - but certainly something scandalous.
The near-apocryphal entry in the Encyclopaedia Britannica: 'Wales, See England'. I had always thought of it as an idiom, muttered under my breath at Jeremy Clarkson's use of 'us'; defensively invoked on seeing corporate maps which leave out Anglesey, and, most recently, when Google decided to celebrate St David's day by putting one of Kind Edward's castles on their homepage. I suppose it isa lot of history to squeeze into so few words.
That's just my reaction, of course. Debates about Britishness, Welshness, and other -nesses will continue as long as there are people on this island, and in the darker corners of the internet. Whatever your take on the matter, whichever 'ness'-ness you subscribe to, the museum's job is to take a reading every now and then; keep an eye on what makes us, inexplicably, 'us'.
I optimistically dropped by the updated Encyclopaedia Britannica. I was hoping to tie up this post with a point about Wales' growing confidence and international profile using a pithy, concise definition. By now, britannica.com, as it's known, refers to Wales as a 'constituent unit'. I must admit I was disappointed. Over a 150 years since the phrase "Wales: see England" was first published, even as new law-making powers are invested to our Assembly Government: it's strange that 'Country' still does not describe what some people see, when they look at Wales.
Tudor Guided Walk
While you wait (with baited breath, I hope), I'd like to share some new pictures with you.
If you feel inspired after seeing those, why not hop over to the events page to book a place on our Tudor Guided Walk. The walk, lasting around an hour, will take place next weekend, the 20th of March. As well as a tour of our Tudor buildings, you'll get a chance to handle replica objects, and explore Tudor smells - good and bad! Places are limited, so booking is essential.
I hope to see you there!
Now, for those of you wondering, a thurible is basically a very nice incense burner indeed. It comes attached to a chain, meaning the incense can be swung at arm's length.
Still used in many churches, temples and shrines across the world, incense can play a very important role in a worshipper's experience of a sacred place. Smell, we are often reminded, is a short-circuit to our memories. The mixture of Frankinsence, Myrrh, and citrus oils usually favoured by the Catholic Church - though perhaps not as evocative as mothballs or freshly-baked bread - is a heavy mix which can transport you to some quite fantastical places. Some of these smells have been used in ceremonies and perfumes since the age of the ancient Egyptians and beyond. It is no surprise, then, that one's imagination can wander quite far off its leash when this stuff is burning.
Now, before i get too Herbal Essences, I should probably 'fess up - i'm an incense fiend. Not just any incense either. I'll snobbishly breeze past the day-glo, wood based tendrils and cones, and go straight for the resin. Usually made from sap collected from trees, each kind has its own history and associations. Frankinsence comes in rounded, amber-coloured blobs. Myrrh looks a bit more like the discarded pupae of a creepy-crawly. Damar looks like pear drops, and smells like a delicate, citrussy nectar...
Anyway, back to the thurible. Ours is replica, to be used in St Teilo's Church. Past experiments (using a thurible kindly loaned from St David's College) have yielded mixed results. Some enjoyed the experience, saying it gave an air of religious calm to the building. Others took two huffs and turned on their heels, coughing. Some just felt uncomfortable, perhaps due to their own religious instruction or beliefs about worship. We propose to use the thurible during re-enactments at first (more on those later...), along with period music and liturgy, to see whether we can really re-create the atmosphere of a Mass in 1500.
Only problem is that the Curator who commissioned the replica is on holiday. The parcel sits tantalisingly intact in the strong room. I'm trying my best not to take a peek - though, it would take considerable effort, seeing as I don't have the keys. We will have to wait, then, until Monday, when we'll have a very different unboxing video to show you!
Resources for Courses - New Tudor Pack
These resources were designed with teachers and school groups in mind, but contain some lovely illustrations and ideas suitable for families as well.
We've put them together for use during, and after, visits to the site's Tudor buildings.
Through the Learning Department's training days for primary teachers, we've been able to get a fair bit of feedback regarding the contents - but we're always happy to hear more. What kinds of resources for learners, of all shapes and sizes, would you like to see at St Fagans: National History Museum?
I was up at St Teilo's Church this morning with Darren the photographer, taking pictures of our Tudor handling objects for use in a post-visit picture book for children. I'm excited to see what the designers will make of the photos, and how the finished product will turn out. I'll keep you posted!
For those of you wondering what other opportunities we currently offer primary schools and teachers, here's a handy guide: Opportunities for Schools (.pdf file)
Sant, Santes, Seintiau
Happy St Teilo's Day!
For those of you wondering which particular kind of festivity to bestow on to this day, know this: St Teilo is the patron saint of apples and horses. Adjust your schedules accordingly.
See his life story depicted in an intricate, technicolour carving at the St Teilo minisite.
The colour of things to come...
It was really refreshing to see so many people out in the sun at St Fagans on Friday. The place really felt revived and busy - it's so easy to forget, over the winter, quite how many visitors we see once Spring kicks in.
Even though there's been plenty of coming and going over the last few months, it has been work done behind the scenes: securing thatch, digging trenches, conserving and installing objects. The site seems to have been reclaimed, by now, by the general public. A trip down to Cosmeston lakes over the weekend confirmed that half of the south east had finally emerged from hibernation, as there were more people about than mallards.
In St Teilo's church, artist Fleur Kelly has been back again to work on some painted panels in the chancel. Since this part of the church was - and still is in some cases - considered as the most sacred, the decoration relfects the taste and preoccupations of sixteenth century Clergy, rather than Laity. The wall-paintings depict the Archbishop Thomas Beckett, and the chaste, pious St George (for those of you wondering why St George appears in a Welsh church, there'll be a post on that soon!). We have chosen musical angels, playing instruments sourced from 1500-30, and linenfold motifs for the wooden panels on the parclose screens.
I took the Learning Department's new camera up to the building in the hope of getting some footage of Fleur at work, to share with you on the blog. Scorsese I am not, and so I present you with some stills from my otherwise wobbly film debut. Fleur will be back in a few weeks' time to put the finishing touches on the paintings. Traditional pigment paint dries very slowly indeed - hopefully by then I will have had a chance to practice with the camera and can bring you a little film that's more 'The Agony and the Ecstasy' and a bit less 'Pollock'...
St Teilo’s Church