Tuesday, 12 April 2016

The Abergavenny Tithe Barn

Tax dodging
   The word "tithe" derives from the Old English "teogotha" meaning a tenth and these were paid as a compulsory contribution of 10% by parishioners to a religious organisation or government, often in the form of agricultural produce which was stored in a barn and went towards the support of the village priest - who was exempt. Naturally this provoked anger as can be heard in the rousing harvest song from the 5th Act of Dryden's opera of King Arthur:
                 We've cheated the parson, we'll cheat him again,
                  For why should a blockhead have one in ten?
It seems that tax evasion was just as popular then as it is now!
   This 13th century barn in Abergavenny was in danger of collapse in 1948 when the parish sold it for £400 and, during its recent history, it has been used as a carpet shop, a store for timber and grain, a theatre and a discotheque. By the late 1990's St Mary's Church had the vision for it to become an amenity at the heart of the community and it has been carefully restored: during the 4 year process scorch marks left by Owain Glyndwr's arson were found.  Prince Charles visited at the beginning of the work and again at the end.

 For the visitor
   It now houses a museum, a learning centre with interactive displays, information about the Tudors, a superb tapestry, a cafe and shop where you can buy inexpensive items such as bookmarks for 20p. Entry is free. The tapestry was made from 400 colours of wool in special stitching to give a 3D effect and was worked on from Monday to Saturday, 10a.m. till 4 p.m. It took 3 years 10 months to complete (if a bit of needlework was not quite right, it had to be unpicked) but it was ready before the Barn was completely renovated. It depicts Abergavenny's landscape and history (imaginatively!) with the motto: "Hostes nunc amici" (enemies now friends).

Serendipity and calorie therapy
   I was lucky to hear an informative talk on this amazing piece of work and afterwards - you've guessed it - had a large slice of scrumptious CAKE. If you are also emboldened by gateau you may like to go on to the Castle and ponder the gruesome massacre that took place there in the 12th century. It is only a short walk. Before that, just across the path is the church of St Mary's where there are fascinating medieval effigies.

How to get there
   Bus information at the very bottom of the page. The Barn is a few minutes' walk from the main bus station  at the bottom of town which is (though we don't mention this) next to a large car park.

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