Amgueddfa Blog: St Teilo’s Church

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...


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!

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!

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.

... 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?