Amgueddfa Blog: Museums, Exhibitions and Events

With light and warm days of Summer being now a sweet memory we invite Autumn in with all its glory and grandeur. The leaves of the trees turning gold, orange and red create a feeling of warmth within comforting us and adapting our minds to the colder months ahead.

This year has been particularly different to me. I have been spending more days outdoors working in the garden, going for walks and being close to nature. This lifestyle change has been so beneficial both physically and mentally that I now welcome Autumn with different eyes. I remember when I used to dread this time of the year and would close myself into my cocoon thinking why don’t humans hibernate? But Autumn has so much to offer if we only challenge ourselves to spend more time in contact with nature.

The crispness of the air, the fallen leaves on the floor, the golden hues of the trees and the soft and delicate light can be only appreciated if we venture ourselves out of our comfort zones.

The St. Fagans Museum is a wonderful place to visit at this time of the year. The magnificent variety of trees changing colour and creating a crunchy carpet of leaves is the perfect invitation for a long walk.

There is one garden located on the terraced path near the ponds that was specifically designed with Autumn colours in mind. There you can find the bright red Euonymus alatus known as “Winged Spindle” or “Burning Bush”, the oriental Acer palmatum, the beautiful red berries of the Cotoneaster horizontalis and other amazing varieties in a beautiful display of colour. This garden is embraced by the gigantic Fern-leaved Beech (Fagus salvatica ‘Aspleniiflora’) one of the oldest trees planted in the Museum dating back to 1872.

If you enjoy gardening there are plenty of tasks that will keep you warm and busy at this time of the year. The joys of planting bulbs with great expectations for Spring or the meditative task of sweeping leaves and gathering them to make leaf mould. Also the perfect time for planting trees as they will have plenty of moisture available to get established.

So wrap up warm, get your wellies or winter boots on and explore the wonderful natural sites that bless the Welsh land.

In the mid-1960s Play School was one of the few programmes available for pre-school children.  In the middle of every show, you were transported through one of three windows, leaving the studio for somewhere exciting in the real world. I loved the programme and remember watching it at home on our rented black and white television. One day they showed us the Natural History Museum in London and the huge skeleton of an extinct creature – a Diplodocus.  This was the first time I had ever heard of fossils or dinosaurs, and I was amazed by what I was seeing.

A year or two later, my parents took me on a trip to London and the one thing I wanted to see was the Diplodocus.  Dippy did not disappoint and I spent all my pocket money on two postcards to stick into my scrapbook.

Fifty years on those old postcards are reunited with Dippy in Cardiff.  I wish I could say that seeing Dippy inspired me to become a palaeontologist, but back then I had no idea that was even possible. However, my visit did spark a lifelong interest in the natural world which led to me eventually becoming a palaeontologist at Amgueddfa Cymru-National Museum Wales.  I work on fossil bryozoans, small colonial marine animals – less obviously spectacular than dinosaurs but (I think) equally as fascinating.   Even so, I will always have an affection for Dippy.

Dr Caroline Buttler

Head of Palaeontology

A photo of Caroline Buttler's scrapbook
Dr Caroline Buttler with her scrapbook in National Museum Cardiff's main hall with Dippy in the background
Bryozoans

August is the most fragrant month here in St. Fagans gardens as we just finished trimming back and harvesting our lavender shrubs. We prune them at this time of the year to remove old flowers and give them a chance to grow new foliage before the Autumn/Winter months.

A well known favourite the lavender has a unique and distinguishable fragrance that is grown for ornamental, aromatic, medicinal and culinary purposes. They are sun loving plants and require a well drained soil.

Lavender is such a versatile plant suiting different garden styles and pleasing the most varied tastes. In St. Fagans you can find hundreds of plants of different species. You will see them in our herb garden, surrounding the fountain in the Dutch Garden, dotted amongst perennials in flower borders, as lavender hedges by the greenhouse and  complimenting the romantic style of the Rosery. A true aromatic heaven!

Lavandula is a genus of 47 known species, here you can find the well known Lavandula angustifolia ‘Hidcote’, the beautiful white flowers of the Lavandula x intermedia ‘Edelweiss’ and one of my favourites the Lavandula x intermedia ‘Grosso’. This particular species is a hybrid cross between the Lavandula angustifolia (English lavender) and the Lavandula latifolia (Portuguese lavender). They are larger, more robust and have longer stalks with bluish purple flower heads making them perfect for cut flowers.

Lavender is also a wonderful culinary ingredient. Most varieties can be used in cooking, however the Lavandula angustifolia ‘Munstead’ is more widely used. They taste great in cakes, scones, jams and as a tea. Add 1 tsp. of dried lavender flowers to a cup of water, let it steep for 10 minutes and enjoy! It’s perfect for calming the mind and helping you drift into dreamland.

When harvested most of our flowers are dried in our potting shed and used to create lavender bags, beautiful dried flower arrangements and other products that can be seasonally found in the Museum store. We also use them in our historic buildings as decoration and inside mattresses to repel insects as they would have done years ago.

The shrine of St David in St David’s Cathedral, Pembrokeshire, was an extremely important pilgrimage site in the Middle Ages. Two pilgrimages there were worth one to Rome, and thousands of people would have visited before the shrine was destroyed at the Reformation.

Inspired by the ‘Beneath our Feet’ project run by Narberth Museum and Tenby Museum and Art Gallery, which is looking at the theme of pilgrimage in Pembrokeshire, Saving Treasures; Telling Stories decided to find out more. What did those long-ago travellers leave behind them?

Pilgrim Objects

Two kinds of objects were commonly associated with pilgrims in the Middle Ages: ampullae, and badges.

Ampullae were little lead scallop-shaped flasks containing holy water that were pinned to clothing or hung around the neck in the belief that they offered spiritual protection. You might expect to find large numbers of them in Pembrokeshire, with its important holy shrine.

It seemed a fair bet that local metal detectorists had found plenty over the years.

But, a search on the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) database, where over a million detectorist finds are recorded, revealed some surprises.

In fact only SIX examples from Pembrokeshire have been recorded with PAS – a surprisingly small amount! Surely there should be many more?

To compare, we looked at the records for Kent, home of medieval England’s most important pilgrim destination – the shrine of St Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral. Even here, only 50 pilgrim ampullae have been recorded with PAS, not such a huge number considering the many thousands of people who travelled there.

Contrast this with Lincolnshire, where 232 ampullae have been recorded, the biggest number of any county in Wales and England. Lincoln Cathedral boasted two important shrines (both to saints called Hugh), but this does not explain such a big difference in numbers.

What’s going on?

Confused, we turned to pilgrim badges. These were usually made of lead or pewter and depicted saints, letters and religious scenes and symbols. They were bought at shrines as souvenirs and pinned to clothing.

Surely lots of these cheap objects would have been lost by the visitors to St David’s?

But a search on the PAS database turned up NO examples from Pembrokeshire at all!

Even in St Thomas Becket’s Kent, no more than 11 badges have been recorded with PAS. Greater London has by far the highest number, at 119.

Then we saw that five pilgrim badges had been reported from Swansea, which seemed unusual as there was no important medieval shrine in the town. One of them was a badge of none other than Thomas Becket himself. How had that got there?

It turned out that each one of these badges had been discovered, not in the city itself, but under the sands of Swansea Bay.

Intrigued, we chose a random sample of the London badges and discovered that they had all been found in the River Thames.

We checked the find spots of the ampullae, and sure enough, two had been found on Tenby beach and two others in the coastal village of Manorbier. There was a definite watery theme!

Giving thanks?

In an age when travel was difficult and dangerous, ships were the fastest method of transport, though not necessarily safe.

So it makes sense that pilgrims going on long journeys would travel at least part of the way by water, and would be relieved and thankful when they reached the shore safe and sound. The evidence of all these badges and ampullae dug from the sands and fished from the Thames suggests that returning pilgrims threw them into the water, perhaps as a way of giving thanks for a safe return.

If you visit the Snakes exhibition at National Museum Cardiff (open till 15 September), you will see a 16th century book from the Library collections.

 

This unusual book is known as Hortus Sanitatis (although it is also written as Ortus Sanitatis) which roughly translates to ‘The Garden of Health’ in Latin. It is an early example of a herbal, a book containing descriptions of plants, along with how to prepare and use them as medicinal remedies.

 

It started life in 1485 as a German ‘Herbarius’, also called the Gart der Gesundheit, before an extended version, translated into Latin, was published in 1491. Unlike the German version, the new Latin version didn't just focus on plants, but also included remedies involving animals, birds, fish and minerals.

 

Over the next 50 years the book was published in many more editions and languages. As well as new Latin and German editions, it was also translated into Dutch and English (although often in shortened versions). The English edition is called the Noble lyfe & natures of man, of bestes, serpentys, fowles & fisshes, and was produced around 1527. All these editions indicate just how popular this book was in the 15th and 16th centuries. Perhaps it saw so many reprints because unlike most herbals of the period, it covered more than just plants. But by the 1530s it was being replaced by the herbals of the 'German Fathers of Botany', Bock, Brunfels, and Fuchs.

 

Our copy of Hortus Sanitatis is one of the Latin editions published in Strasburg in 1517 by Reinhard Beck. The full title is Ortus sanitatis de herbis et plantis. De animalibus et reptilibus. De avibus et volatilibus. De piscibus et natatilibus. De lapidibus et in terre venis nascentibus. Urinis et earum speciebus.

 

It has no known author, as was common with herbals of this period, and is heavily illustrated. The illustrations, along with the purchase of the paper for printing, would have been the most expensive part of producing the book, and so were re-used from other works. Unusually for the period, many of the woodcuts are coloured.

 

Our copy of this book is from the Willoughby Gardner Library, but also has a bookplate identifying it as part of the former collection of Charles Butler. Charles Butler, Esq. [1821-1910] was an English politician and collector. He held a very extensive and valuable library at Warren Wood, Hatfield, which was sold off at Sotheby’s in 1911.

 

It’s most likely that Willoughby Gardner purchased the book from that sale, either directly or indirectly from a rare books seller. He regularly purchased books from famous libraries, and so would have been well aware of such a significant auction.

 

The title page of the book also gives us a clue to a much earlier owner. Written in ink are the words ‘Monasterii Montis S. Georgii 1659’, indicating that it might have formerly been in the possession of a monastery in Austria.

 

The monastery of St. Georgenberg was founded on the site of a hermitage, near Stans, and held an extensive library. In the 17th century the abbot decided to reorganise it and give the books new marks of ownership, written on the first and last folios, and usually dated (most often in 1652, 1659, and 1661).

 

In 1850 the monastery sold a number of books from their library in order to raise money, and many of them have since ended up in public collections in the UK. It is quite likely that Charles Butler acquired Hortus Sanitatis from that sale.

 

 

Further reading;

Anderson, Frank J. An illustrated history of the herbals. New York, Columbia University Press, 1977

Arber, Agnes. Herbals: their origin and evolution, 3rd edition. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1986