Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Museum of Welsh Life

I'm still in Wales for a family visit. Caught with some time on my hands, and seeking a peaceful place, I went to the Museum of Welsh Life at Saint Fagans Castle, just down the road from my parents house in "the valleys," the Welsh coal-mining area.

My family is part Welsh, but we're from Macynlleth in the west, not the valleys. My parents moved here thirteen years ago to be close to my sister, and I've been coming to Saint Fagans ever since to keep up with the changes and updates at the museum. It's one of my favorite places in the world. An open-air museum, Saint Fagan's consists primarily of buildings taken down from all over Wales and reconstructed in their natural settings, each set to a particular time period.

This visit, my priority was to see Saint Teilo's church. This medieval church was recently dismantled and rebuilt on the Saint Fagan's site. As the archeologists and conservators worked on the church to dismantle it, they discovered the medieval wall paintings under several coats of lime wash.

Prior to the Reformation, medieval churches, which would have course all have been Catholic, were gaily decorated. Wall paintings depicted scenes from the New Testament for illiterate parishioners to learn from, a kind of medieval graphic novel or comic story.

It was only after Wales became Protestant and in fact evolved its own highly developed style of plain Protestant churches and chapels that such frivolities became frowned upon. The Puritan movement within the Anglican church was largely responsible for eradicating church decorations in England and Wales.

I had seen the outside of the church several times before but this was my first chance to go inside. The paintings took my breath away.

I also wandered around some of my old favorite exhibits. I particularly enjoy the farm and garden set-ups, especially the animals. Thes pigs may not know it, but they are important museum employees and reenactors.

As a human ecologist my business is to know how people make a living from the environment and how they impact the environment and how the environment impacts them. One of the things that we've forgotten as we raced to a globalized industrial society is how to adapt to the local environment. We're going to have to remember how to do this, because climate change and energy problems make it clear that we need to work on decentralized and bioregional energy and agriculture solutions.

I don't for a minute expect that we'll all begin living in houses made of Welsh cobb or slate, and raising pigs in the backyards of suburban tract houses, but there are things to be learned from the old ways.

The humble pig, for instance, is a woodland animal. Few of us know or remember this today. But a pig in a woodlot is a happy and productive creature. He will root around for tasty nuggets underground, turning over the soil, aerating, fertilizing, feeding himself, capturing sunlight.

I think we might do well with a few more woodland pig operations in Maine.

This fourteenth century house is another favorite. It dates back to the times when the animals lived in the house with the people, sharing warmth, but also sharing a lot of other things perhaps, parasites and diseases.

You go in the door and the byre is on one side, the main kitchen/living space on the other. A farmer myself, I could appreciate how easy it would be to feed stock in winter.

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