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!
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...
Half term art cart
Art Cart starts tomorrow and the theme is love....
We will be looking at lovespoons, stay busks and tie on pockets and the kinds of symbols and patterns that are found on them. I have lots of A4 sheets for decorating and colouring, but i have also made four really large lovespoons that I need some fantastic art work for. Below is a picture of the sad white lovespoons - please help!!
A Feathery February Half Term
This week is National Nest Box Week and next week is Half Term so we've decided to combine the two and have bird-themed activities at T? Gwyrdd this weekend and all next week as well. We'll be making bird feeders and nest boxes and there'll be a free info pack all about how to attract birds to your garden and look after them.
With the weather looking increasingly Spring-like at the moment it is time to get those nest boxes up before the breeding season gets going. Spring and summer is a very busy time for the birds as they have to feed all those chicks as well as themselves, so any help that comes from us is most welcome I'm sure!
New Nature Den in Oriel 1!
On Thursday and Friday last week, work began on revamping the existing nature area of Oriel 1 here in St Fagans. This is a very exciting part of the Explore Nature project at the museum, which sees us drawing attention to the wealth of wildlife that can be found on site.
The first step was to decorate the area. We chose woodland themed colours and large colourful panels which show some of the animals that live within the museum. All of these panels are now in place, as you can see from these pictures. Hopefully this has made the area very inviting and a fun way to learn about our wildlife.
We also see the new ‘nature den’ as being an activity area where a range of nature and wildlife based activities can take place. For this we have installed a new shelving area which will be used for displaying specimens, keeping games and activities as well as being a bookshelf for a range of nature and wildlife books. We also now have an area for displaying your artwork, so come along and do some drawing!
This week will see the installation of the technological aspects, which we are very excited about. Along the wall with the wildlife montage (between the blackbird and the bat) we will be putting up our new flat screen television. This television will be linked up to our new live bird feeder camera so you will be able to watch the various birds feeding. There will also be access to other footage taken from our wildcams, from batcam and our underwater pond camera.
As well as the footage from our cameras, we have also had some St Fagans wildlife documentaries made. These will also be available to watch on the screen, from the comfort of the sofa if you so wish. The first of the films shows a typical day in the life of the wildlife here, while the second concentrates on the Lesser Horseshoe bats that roost in the Tannery here.
We are very happy with how the nature den is looking and we hope to have everything installed and up and running ready from half term, which is next week! Why not come along to St Fagans during the half term holiday and have a look and let us know what you think?
If you can’t make it during half term, be sure to attend the big launch of the Explore Nature project, which is taking place on Saturday April the 2nd! For more information click here.
My 1st crocus has arrived! None reported from any schools yet, but I expect the reports to come flooding in this week.
Soon, lots of flowers will appear on the map - so you can watch exactly where the flowers are opening first.
Remember, crocus flowers open mid morning and close towards the end of the day. Download my investigation ideas to test this theory with your crocus flowers.
Don't miss your flowers! If by the end of this week your crocus hasn't opened - please take your pot home over half term. This way you can enjoy your flowers and show your family what you have been growing.
I've not received any questions this week but I've had reports of shoots from St. Mary's Catholic Primary School and St Joseph's R.C Primary.
Please send me pictures of your class with their flowers!
This weekend's free events: St Fagans roundup!
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!
Dazu and confused: an exhausting but exhilarating journey to China
Having secured the Dazu Exhibition to come to Wales - to venture west for the first time ever - the Museum sent me to China as a facilitator, a friendly face, to meet and greet its people and report back on the full logistics required for transporting these holy artefacts all the way to Cardiff.
This is a diary of memories from the trip:
The further you travel, the less you know. That line, from Tao teaching, is calling to lay rest my preconceptions.
I reach Dazu late in the evening and after nearly a full day of travelling, cocooned in one small seat after another, happy to have finally finished the journey. My hosts are excited by my presence and have kindly prepared a welcoming dinner. The food arrives as colourful exotic platters, artful dishes with precise garnishes.
Plate after plate upon a lazy Susan, a magic roundabout of smells and flavours so unfamiliar I feel the need for reckless abandonment. I am coached through each course in descriptive detail. Silk worms, pigs gums and the tail of something! Respectfully I enjoy being the entertainment, the toast of this banquet of curiosities.
The next day and I’m standing at the foot of the mountain, my leather soles on ancient well trodden steps. The summit is hidden by dense foliage and cloaked in a playful mist.
Beishan represents the pinnacle of Chinese rock carvings, familiar images from text books are now images of breathtaking artistic, spiritual realization. These exquisite statues project their majesty from 10 meter high walls in commanding elegance, as another niche reveals graceful scenes in rust coloured sandstone magnificence. Truly a day to remember!
Next morning and it’s time to meet the local media. The smell of a thimble size glass of white spirit liquor goes someway in preparing me for the consumption. I know I have to knock it back. Today I’m the toast of the town, and everyone wants a piece of me.
I start with filming for Chongqing T.V and also make the front page of Dazu's local newspaper. I'm feeling the love. It's difficult to recall the interviews, an almost surreal experience of transcendental fragmented English prose, offered in a wide-eyed excitable manner. I must have said the right things - forged a relationship - as an orderly queue waits to raise another glass of white heat to my lips!
Alas, it’s my last night in China. I’m gazing upon the towering skyline of Chongqing with its ever suppressive fog cast neon rainbows across the Yangzi river. Leaving the busy streets behind, the smell of frying tofu and soot, I watch the city unfold from a packed pleasure cruiser.
The huge creative and commercial upheavals that China is undergoing tell of a transition from hard line politics to economic pragmatism. China and the world have much to gain from Chinese openness. I will leave with a fondness for the country and its people.
Lee Jones, Senior Technician, National Museum Cardiff
Respect the world as your self
The world can be your lodging
Love the world as your self
The world can be your trust.
History in living technicolour
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!
Slowly, more and more schools are reporting shoot sightings! Cwm Glas Primary near Swansea have reported a few more shoots but still no sign at St. Mary's Catholic Primary School in Flint.
My daffodils are about 10cms tall now and my crocus have just popped through the soil. Even my mystery bulb is starting to grow and there are buds opening on my garden trees. A true sign that spring is coming!
Take a look at the pictures so you can be sure what bulbs you have growing. Send me some pictures of your shoots or how you collect your weather.
Watch your crocus very carefully now because once they start grow they can flower very quickly. As soon as they flower, send in your record so we can see on the map where the bulbs are opening first.
Competitions. Don't for get we have two fantastic competitions this year. The Daffodil Drawing Competition and the Win a trip competition. I've already recieved some very nice drawings from Bishops Childs Church in Wales School. I look forward to seeing some more from other schools soon...
Weather wise it's been very windy for most of us - so please check that your pots haven't fallen over.
After being inspired by our Quilting Club (next meeting is March 5th), I have been doing quite a lot of sewing. Over Christmas I got out the sewing machine and made about 8 bags, but mainly I've been concentrating on my quilt (see picture above). I've never quilted before (or sewn much really), so am learning as I go, and have been loving it.
This foray into sewing has meant that I've been spending lots of money on material and equipment and reading lots of books and articles. One of my favourite things I've found out is that on February 8th it's Hari-Kuyo festival in Japan. This festival gives people the chance to thank and appreciate the needles they have used in the past year by sticking them in to a big block of tofu! As one of the monks from the temple said in the article I read on the reuters website 'Sometimes there are painful things and secrets that women can't tell men, and they put these secrets into the pins and ask the gods to get rid of them.'
It made me wonder if there are any pins and needles or sewing customs in Wales (and the rest of the UK), does anyone know of any? In Oriel 1 we do have a charm bottle on display which has bent pins in it which is meant to protect the owner of the bottle from witchcraft, and of course, pins would be used with a voodoo doll or a poppet...
I had a look in Steve Roud's book 'The Penguin guide to the Superstitions of Britain and Ireland', and whereas there wasn't much about needles (other than if a needle breaks when you are sewing it will bring good fortune to the wearer of the article sewn) there are quite a few customs to do with pins. Pins used in the making of wedding dress are particularly lucky, you could also stick them into an onion as part of a love divination, but you shouldn't take pins on board a ship.
And back to quilting, and patchwork quilts in particular... 'If a lady completes one of these without assistance, she will never be married.'