Tag Archives: fertility

Infertility, garden intrigues and mystery manuscripts at Manorbier Castle

The HC team is pleased to announce publication of its first co-written article in the most recent edition of Transactions of the Honorable Society of Cymmrodorion. Here, the team explores the links between an understudied early fourteenth-century manuscript miscellany, the family of Gerald of Wales (d. 1223) and the medieval castle of Manorbier in Pembrokeshire, where Gerald was born in 1146.
We have argued that the manuscript, which contains a rich selection of medical and other texts, many to do with cures for infertility or the production of male offspring, was produced by and for some of Gerald’s descendants. We also suggest that it provides important new insights into the also little-known but very troubled history of the castle and its owners between 1200 and 1500.
Central to our discussion is a hitherto unrecognised garden space at the castle (below), formed accidentally when the two-storey chapel was added to the building in 1260. No doubt the ingredients for many of the recipes and ‘cures’ contained within the manuscript would have been grown here and in the surrounding lands and gardens outside the castle walls. 
The Garden Space at Manorbier Castle

The Garden Space at Manorbier Castle

However, these ‘cures’ seem to have been ineffectual. Although the evidence uncovered by the team suggests that the manuscript may have helped successive generations of the family to address a deepening inheritance crisis, that crisis erupted into a bitter dispute that ended in robbery, appropriation of the castle and its lands and, finally, murder.

Gardens in the Cultural Imagination

A guest post by Maria Zygogianni:

Fascination with the garden is inextricably linked with human nature. The enclosed garden is employed as the birthplace of life or the garden of the dead where life ends in mythology and religion. Supernatural loci, such as the Isle of Avalon, Eden, the Garden of Hesperides, straddle the real and the imaginary. Medieval geographers have tried to make these concepts tangible by associating them with actual geographical locations. According to Genesis, Eden is located between four rivers:

The name of the one is Phison (Ganges): that is it which compasseth all the land of Hevilath, where gold groweth. And the gold of that land is very good: there is found bdellium, and the onyx stone. And the name of the second river is Gehon (Nile): the same is it that compasseth all the land of Ethiopia.  And the name of the third river is Tigris: the same passeth along by the Assyrians. And the fourth river is Euphrates. And the Lord God took man, and put him into the paradise of pleasure, to dress it, and to keep it (Douay-Rheims Bible).

Much to the frustration of explorers, such as Cosmas Indicopleustes, the discovery of the worldly Paradise eluded them. The hortus conclusus, in its many forms, has captivated the artistic imagination as well.

Figure 1. The Garden of Hesperides, 1892, Frederic Leighton, Lady Lever Art Gallery, Liverpool, Public Domain [Wikimedia Commons]

Figure 1. The Garden of Hesperides, 1892, Frederic Leighton, Lady Lever Art Gallery, Liverpool, Public Domain [Wikimedia Commons]

Frederic Leighton’s depiction of the Garden of Hesperides, a space of eternal bliss where the nymphs of the evening dwelt, highlights three features common to most of these Other-worlds; an apple tree, a strong female presence, and a snake/dragon.




While the most prominent figures of the garden in cultural history are religious, the secular garden has found its place in folklore, literature, and the arts as well. An international art project, THE GARDEN- End of Times, Beginning of Times, will be launched in the summer of 2017, in Aarhus, the cultural capital of Europe for 2017. THE GARDEN zone will cover the past, starting from the Baroque period, the present garden, in Aarhus city centre, and the future, along the coast and in the forest by the city. The project looks at the changing relationship between man and nature and the interesting choice of location seems to bring the garden in conversation with the landscape (the enclosed museum space, the urban city centre, the forest, and the sea).

Figure 2.Grandmother's Garden, 1869, Kristian Zahrtmann, Bornholm Art Museum, Public Domain [Wikimedia Commons]

Figure 2.Grandmother’s Garden, 1869, Kristian Zahrtmann, Bornholm Art Museum, Public Domain [Wikimedia Commons]

The secular garden, still, remains an Other-world, a heterotopia. A heterotopia is a space real and imaginary, in and outside of society, which encloses people in crisis, such as a boarding house, a prison, or a home for the elderly.



The contemporary garden attracts individuals in crisis; the artists, the elderly, the youth. The Eden Festival, is such an example. This music festival aims to support artists, involve the young people and the community, bringing the audience in an otherwise overlooked area.  And their tagline captures the charm and danger of the garden-space:

“Sometimes you eat the garden, sometimes the garden eats you”

The secular garden is primarily a space of pleasure where one grows flowers or vegetable and fruit. A private and protected space, it is a common addition to the house and a source of inspiration for crafts and decoration.

Figure 3. Wall decoration, Kosmeteio Foundation, Athens

Figure 3. Wall decoration, Kosmeteio Foundation, Athens

The image left shows a mpanda, a wall-hanging carpet/blanket, common to Greek households, which was used to keep the house warm and decorate. Such wall-hangings would often depict gardens as a space of social gathering, with a female figure, or animals. Despite the apparently mundane nature of the garden, it remains an irresistible, but dangerous space. Rapunzel’s mother cannot resist the urge to eat a rampion from Dame Gothel’s garden and her husband sneaks into the forbidden garden to steal the plant. Caught by the witch, he promises to give her the baby and in exchange take everything he needs from her garden. The evil Gothel takes the girl and imprisons her in a tower in the middle of a forest.

The garden remains gendered in Margaret Atwood’s Lady Oracle.  Joan Foster, the protagonist of the novel, is writing one of her costume gothics set in a manor with an impressive, albeit sinister, maze in the garden. Charlotte, the heroine, is magnetised by the labyrinth and cannot keep away despite the fact that the Redmond’s former wives all disappeared, and were presumably murdered, there. When she enters, she finds them thriving and well in the heart of the garden-labyrinth, explaining that in this Other-space they are free. Joan Foster’s heroine and Joan herself discover the feminine garden, a safe space that empowers them and shields them from the destructive, vampiric men in their lives.

Cultural representations of the hortus conclusus suggest the power of this feminine space and its influence on the artistic imagination. The commonplace secular garden is no less supernatural than its religious counterparts; through the lens of heterotopia, a space of transformation and liberation, but also destruction and imprisonment, the image of the enclosed garden has permeated both life and culture throughout human history.

Being Human – the AHRC Festival of the Humanities

TS writes:

What does the HC have in common with these images? Find out when the Hortus Conclusus team takes part in the Being Human festival at Swansea University from 11-20 November 2015. We’ll be offering the sensory experience of the enclosed garden in words, pictures and a very hands-on test of your plant knowledge. Details are here, just come along if you’re in the Swansea area on 20 November!

L0038592 The Physician's Handbook Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org The Physician's Handbook: English medical and astrological compendium 1454 Published:  -  Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

 Wellcome Library, London.

L0000845 foetal positions in uterus, pregnant female Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org Four foetal positions in uterus - Full-figure anatomy of pregnant woman labelled with ailments Ink and Watercolour Circa 1420-30 MS 49 Apocalypse, (The), [etc.]. Apocalypsis S. Johannis cum glossis et Vita S. Johannis; Ars Moriendi, etc.; Anatomical, medical, texts, theological moral and allegorical 'exempla' and extracts, a few in verse. Published:  -  Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Wellcome Library, London

The Ancient Hortus Conclusus Uncovered

LHM writes: A recent flying visit to Naples (taking in Herculaneum and Pompeii) uncovered a gardens ethos predating the period focused on in the Hortus project but certainly feeding into its overarching rationale.

Firstly, the stony, dust-encruIMG_0108-2sted remains of Herculaneum, once a bustling town on the very edge of the sea but now at some distance from it, yields a large walled garden behind what is left of a large tavern on the original quayside. Today, that garden flourishes as an orchard, its many apple-trees laden with golden fruit ripened by the Mediterranean sun and its stone-reflected rays. The entire space thus presents a rich, fertile, sun-drenched accomplice to the dust-laden blocks of hewn stone uncovered from beneath the twenty meters of volcanic ash that suffocated the bustling town at midday on August 24 79CE. Even more than in most walled gardens, the complex entanglements of stone and vegetation of the hortus conclusus at Herculaneum speak loudly. Not only do they articulate the suddenly obliterated lives of those with whom they were interdependent nearly two millennia ago, but also herald the inexorable and reliably visible turning of the seasons, as the world around the ruined town has recovered and recuperated.

The next day, spent in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale in Naples, uncovered more information about the gardens of Herculaneum and Pompeii where, as in many Roman gardens, gender and sexuality featured prominently. This was the realm of Priapus, a god fashioned from the branch of a fig-tree, and other deities connected with sexuality and fertility: Pan, Dionysus, satyrs, nymphs, maenads, all of whom featured in the statuary of the once lavish gardens of villas such as the elaborate Villa of the Papyri in Herculaneum. The ruins of other villas and houses at both Herculaneum and Pompeii yielded a large number of ‘erotic’ paintings, marble reliefs and mosaics depicting enthusiastic sexual interactions, sometimes orgiastic (the under 14s were only allowed into this area in the museum with responsible adults!). Many of these images, however, rather than adorning the Roman bedroom or bordello, were found in those areas used for outside eating in the courtyards adjacent to the gardens. Whilst frequently billed as titivating and subversive in contemporary times, the images are clearly more in keeping with the relentless entanglement of sex and fecundity, decay and death that characterizes the hortus conclusus more generally. In this way, they resonate strongly with the many idealized phalluses engraved into the granite slabs of the Pompeii streets outside the gardens, organic and fleshly scripts that speak not of sex but of another flesh-stone entanglement: apotropaic protection against infertility and the ‘evil eye’.