The Women’s Race for Life

posted in: Family | 0

Well, the tortoise and hare thing didn’t work, but we had fun anyway. About 2,000 women running, jogging and walking 5 km around the park in Cwmbran to raise money to fight cancer.

We like the Cwmbran Race for Life because it’s nice and relaxed, we can miss the pre-match warm-up and the silly young men in tutus, and we can run with Cara the pilgrim dog.

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In previous years I’ve been the one who wanted to keep running and my daughter got out of puff. This year she has been training so we ran for 2 km, walked and ran a bit, then she said she wanted to run so off she went. But I made it back only a minute after her – 34 mins to her 33. Cara would probably have done it in 15 mins, and she’s older than me in doggy years.

The Race for Life gives you the opportunity to run to celebrate someone who has survived cancer, or in memory of someone who has died. My daughter ran this year ‘for boobs’ – as well as working for a public health charity, Ash Wales, she has this year been a student volunteer co-ordinator for CoppaFeel. This is a charity which encourages young women to look after their breasts and teaches them how to check for signs of cancer.

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I ran in memory of my old friend Paul Courtney, the archaeologist, who died in May. Paul was one of the cleverest men I know, a leading expert on medieval archaeology and the theory of material culture. In spite of all this, and a publication record that most of us can only envy, he never had a ‘proper job’ – he kept going on badly-paid freelance contracts and occasional media work. Apparently this was because as a young man he was heavily involved with CND and the Young Communists – and when he was newly qualified and looking for work in the 1980s he was clearly ‘not one of us’. Self-censorship by the academic establishment goes back that far – and it was their loss.

On the way home I started wondering whether Race for Life had been about for long enough to qualify as ‘intangible heritage’. Intangible heritage is things like events and customs, rather than places and objects. In Wales, it could mean the Eisteddfod, the Mari Lwyd or the rugby internationals. Elsewhere it includes things like Mardi Gras, the Mexican Day of the Dead, Up Helly A and the Venetian carnival. My colleague David Howell, who tweets as @Kasuuta, runs an online newspaper on heritage issues and another specifically on intangible heritage – http://paper.li/Kasuutta/1347263108 and http://paper.li/Kasuutta/1347264840 for examples.

It’s a long time since I’ve done any serious running. My knees got more and more creaky. The real crisis came when I knelt down in front of a class to fix the computer and couldn’t get up again. It took the 2 strongest lads in the class to put me back on my feet, and my colleagues made silly remarks about how I’d only done it to get (insert name of cute student here) to give me a cuddle. So that was the end of running. Instead I go hill walking but somehow that uses different muscles.

As does crawling round church floors looking for medieval tombstones. But the hill walking is probably better training for pilgrimages.

Early Medieval Inscribed Stones

posted in: Archaeology | 0

I have the final volume of Nancy Edwards’ Corpus of Early Medieval Inscribed Stones to review.

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Of course, it’s brilliant, the illustrations are magnificent – what can I say? I have to think of something a little bit critical (not too critical, though, because Nancy chairs the Advisory Panel on Medieval Welsh Stone Sculpture, on which I am a newbie).

I guess one of the key questions has to be why a book at all. In the age of the internet, is printing a very expensive limited run of something like this really the best way to disseminate information? The book is far too big to carry in a backpack, though it would do well in the boot of a car. The quality of the illustrations is stunning, and until recently I would have said that for reference they are far better in printed format. Looking at Google’s Cultural Institute Art Project reproductions, though (at http://www.google.com/culturalinstitute/about/ – I’ve used the amazing reproductions of Holbein’s Ambassadors with classes, but they are all good), the magnification you can now get with an online image is even better than high-quality printed photographs.

So – why the book? This series is a different matter from a research monograph, which will be chewed over and rapidly superseded. The point about the Corpus is that it is meant to last. Not that it will be the last word on any subject – this volume contains amendments to the earlier ones, and stones are still turning up. But any web site would have to be future-proofed – and as any web site  designer will tell you, the only way to future-proof a site effectively is to print it out on good-quality acid-free paper and lodge it in a library of record.  You might just as well publish it while you are at it.

Even the technology we use to access web-based materials gets rapidly outdated. I spent most of last summer (between showers) working on digital film clips to link to QR codes to explain the heritage of Monmouth and Torfaen. At our big digital heritage conference in the autumn, we were told that QR codes were old technology. I never did find out what is replacing them, but it probably won’t last much longer than they did.

So – back to the book. Volume 3 will be particularly useful for me, as it’s an area where there’s a lot of overlap between early medieval and medieval, which is where I come in. I’m working on a database of medieval tomb carvings in Wales. This is designed to take up where Nancy Edwards and the Celtic Inscribed Stones Project database leave off, and to run until 1540, by which time the changes of the Reformation were affecting tomb design and other aspects of commemoration. And yes, it’s going to be an online resource, and no, I don’t know how I’m going to future-proof it. Yet.

Nancy’s dating of some of the stones is reassuringly in line with mine (I’d hate to have to ague with her). There are stones with what look at first like flowers but are actually expanded-arm crosses. Here’s one at Llanfaglan near Caernarfon

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Of course, it’s brilliant, the illustrations are magnificent – what can I say? I have to think of something a little bit critical (not too critical, though, because Nancy chairs the Advisory Panel on Medieval Welsh Stone Sculpture, on which I am a newbie).

I guess one of the key questions has to be why a book at all. In the age of the internet, is printing a very expensive limited run of something like this really the best way to disseminate information? The book is far too big to carry in a backpack, though it would do well in the boot of a car. The quality of the illustrations is stunning, and until recently I would have said that for reference they are far better in printed format. Looking at Google’s Cultural Institute Art Project reproductions, though  – I’ve used the amazing reproductions of Holbein’s Ambassadors with classes, but they are all good), the magnification you can now get with an online image is even better than high-quality printed photographs.

So – why the book? This series is a different matter from a research monograph, which will be chewed over and rapidly superseded. The point about the Corpus is that it is meant to last. Not that it will be the last word on any subject – this volume contains amendments to the earlier ones, and stones are still turning up. But any web site would have to be future-proofed – and as any web site  designer will tell you, the only way to future-proof a site effectively is to print it out on good-quality acid-free paper and lodge it in a library of record.  You might just as well publish it while you are at it.

Even the technology we use to access web-based materials gets rapidly outdated. I spent most of last summer (between showers) working on digital film clips to link to QR codes to explain the heritage of Monmouth and Torfaen. At our big digital heritage conference in the autumn, we were told that QR codes were old technology. I never did find out what is replacing them, but it probably won’t last much longer than they did.

So – back to the book. Volume 3 will be particularly useful for me, as it’s an area where there’s a lot of overlap between early medieval and medieval, which is where I come in. I’m working on a database of medieval tomb carvings in Wales. This is designed to take up where Nancy Edwards and the Celtic Inscribed Stones Project database leave off, and to run until 1540, by which time the changes of the Reformation were affecting tomb design and other aspects of commemoration. And yes, it’s going to be an online resource, and no, I don’t know how I’m going to future-proof it. Yet.

Nancy’s dating of some of the stones is reassuringly in line with mine (I’d hate to have to ague with her). There are stones with what look at first like flowers but are actually expanded-arm crosses. Here’s one at Llanfaglan near Caernarfon

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Some of these have been dated in England to the tenth and eleventh centuries but the Welsh examples really do seem to be later. One of the things is that the crosses seem to have been drawn with a compass rather than freehand.

If you look carefully you can see the Llanfaglan cross has a boat carved on it

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the church is in the fields overlooking the Menai Straits, so this old sailor’s tombstone has now been placed so that he can look out to sea (the photos are by Ifor Williams).

Llanfaglan is a lovely old church and well worth a visit. It’s looked after by the Friends of Friendless Churches (bit of a misnomer as the church isn’t short of friends, but maintaining it was beyond the resources of the parish). You have to contact them for details of how to get a key. The church also has two of the early stones that are in Nancy’s book, some sturdy eighteenth-century woodwork, and a very strange seven-sided font. It could have been designed to be painted with the seven sacraments of the medieval church. (More on this in the Welsh Stone Forum newsletter – go to http://www.museumwales.ac.uk/en/welshstoneforum/newsletter/  and click on newsletters 9 and 13).

The Heritage Tortoise is now off to ‘run’ in the Cwmbran Women’s Race for Life. Now, what was that thing about the tortoise and the hare ….

Cardiff’s Martyr’s Memorial

posted in: Heritage (General) | 3

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The Heritage Tortoise … prowling round the heritage of Wales and the wider world, strolling through the undergrowth, peering up at stone carvings, eating the odd dandelion leaf …

Mary Beard has been tweeting about Cambridge,s Martyr’s Memorial, which is rather anomalously placed on a park bench (http://timesonline.typepad.com/dons_life/2013/06/the-cambridge-martyrs-memorial.html). Cardiff has its own Martyr’s Memorial, placed even more idiosyncratically on the wall of the gents’ formal suits department in James Howell’s department store. I wouldn’t think that 99% of the men who go there to get suited and booted for weddings and funerals know who it commemorates, still less why he died such a painful death.

So who was Rawlins White? According to Foxe’s Acts and Monuments  (better known as the Book of Martyrs), he was a simple Cardiff fisherman. He heard the Bible being read and preached in Cardiff, probably in the late 1540s or early 1550s, during the reign of Edward VI. Feeling that he was too old to learn this newfangled business of reading, he sent his little son to school instead, and the boy read the Bible to his father in the evenings while they were mending their nets. Though he could not read, White learned much of the Bible by heart and became a preacher himself.

But then in 1553 Edward died and his Catholic sister Mary came to power. Rawlins White was arrested, questioned and eventually burned at the stake. Foxe’s account describes him sending a message to his wife asking her to send him his best shirt to be burned in, though victims at the stake were usually stripped. The full story is online.

Martyrdom should be simple and clear – but  like so many martyrdom stories, this one is more complex than it appears. If you read between the lines of Foxe’s account, it’s clear that Rawlins White was the leader of a group of radical Protestants. He was arrested at the very beginning of Mary’s reign, at the same time as those much more high-profile martyrs Cranmer, Latimer and Ridley. And he was not executed for another two years, so he was dealt with by due process of law – Mary and her advisers were more interested in high-visibility recantations than in creating martyrs.

Then there’s the role in all this of the local bishop, Anthony Kitchin. He has had a bad press, not all of it deserved. He became bishop of Llandaff in 1545, when he was already in his 60s, and served under Henry, Edward, Elizabeth and Mary. This suggests a degree of flexibility not usually found in the Reformation period. But I have a soft spot for him, and I can see his point. Opposing government policy in those days didn’t leave you with a spell on the back benches: instead, it could lead to a slow, painful and sticky death. And what good would it do his diocese if he was removed and replaced by an extremist from one side or another? So he dug his heels in and tried to blunt the impact of some of the more dramatic changes. Reading between the lines again, we can see that he even tried to save Rawlins White, keeping him under very lax house arrest in the episcopal palace at Mathern and even encouraging him to escape.

Foxe’s story also mentions White’s associates, who were allowed to visit him in prison and encourage him. None of them were arrested or punished.

White was burned in the south part of the tiny borough of Cardiff. When the town expanded in the nineteenth century a chapel was built near the spot and a memorial plaque was put on the chapel wall. The James Howell store bought the chapel in order to expand but preserved the wall and its plaque.

Wales also has a memorial in Carmarthen to another Marian martyr, Robert Ferrar, bishop of St David’s, who seems to have fallen victim to a stitch-up by the Cathedral chapter (now, what does that remind me of …) but as far as I know there is no memorial to the third Protestant martyr, another Cardiff man, Thomas Capper. He was burned in 1542, during Henry VIII’s reign, possibly for challenging the idea that God was really present in the Mass.