Peasant Family Museum - Church of S. Nicolò
The museum is housed in the Church of S. Nicolò (or of the Battuti). In the exhibition, important testimonies of the life of a former peasant.
The history of the building (written by Anna Mainardi Scarampi)
The copy of a map of 1764 shows us the plan of the castle of Montaldo Scarampi and the walls surrounding the village at the top of the hill (Montis altus). The "Fence" was the name that included the whole territory within the walls. On the north-west side, inside this wall there was this church, dedicated to S. Nicolò, then called dei Battuti ('Bati'). Behind the church and bordering the walls was the cemetery.
The castle suffered a fire at the end of 1700 (according to the testimony of De Canis) and little by little everything was ruined. The bricks and recoverable materials were used to build new houses and nothing remained to testify to such great power.
Unique preserved, this church. It was already deconsecrated when in 1923 it was made suitable to welcome the Kindergarten. In the first part of the nave there was the hall to welcome the children, a wall divided this from the accommodation for the nuns, this was on two floors with a central staircase. On the first floor a bedroom and kitchen in the abside, on the first floor three bedrooms.
The first president of the kindergarten was the owner of the furnace of Montaldo: Giovanni Battista Binello, who donated the bricks for the wall of the garden and for the flooring with a “vespaio” for the church. Probably, in this period, the facade was embellished according to the taste of the time, as we see it on some postcards.
The rainwater cistern, which is now seen in the corridor, was then outside in the garden surrounding the building. From 1936 and for some years, in the summer months, this was the seat of the Heliotherapeutic Colony, for all the children of the country. In the years 1954-55 a classroom was built adjacent to the church with the corridor that covered the old cistern (drinking water had arrived- cost of work £9,000).
In 1956 another floor was built over the hall to provide more suitable accommodation for the Reverend Sisters. New desks were purchased and the furniture was redone.
During these works the decorative pediment of 1923 was demolished and the building had a single facade made more modern in which almost nothing remained of the memory of the old church. In 1963 the Sisters were withdrawn and the Asylum closed.
So we come to the present day. In 1995 the Municipality presented a project to recover the building by inserting it into a community path of small museums for the enhancement of the territory. The project supported by the G.A.L was financed by the European Community and it was possible to proceed with the restoration work.
Removed the superstructures, the simplicity of the single nave that constituted the old church of the 'Batì', presented itself to us in all its beauty. In July 2001 this museum was inaugurated, which aims to retrace the life of the peasant family through clothes: starting from marriage, the baptism of the children, the party, to get to the life of every day: the clothes of toil and work, of school, the asylum uniform.
The tools and objects that the Museum is enriching are witnesses of the life of Montaldo at the beginning of the 20th century and have all been donated to the Museum, a sign that this has become for the population the place of historical memory, the symbol of those values that are always necessary to build the future.
The visit to this museum wants us to know some aspects of the life of the country in the first. Mid-twentieth century. This backward journey we do it above all by following fashion.
Let's start with the wedding clothes: the first are from a wealthy couple of 1910, the others are from peasants who got married around 1930. The dress, with the male “redingote” jacket, was cut and sewn by a tailor in Turin for the gentlemen of the place in the style of the beginning of the century instead the men's suit of the '30s, of a more modern style, was made by a good tailor of the town.
At that time there were many tailors and seamstresses, the clothes were made to measure and, depending on the skill of the tailor, they were made to make formal or work clothes, also because the less good tailor was cheaper.
Notice how the female clothes have all been shortened with the changing of fashion. The richest bride was married in a white dress and the wedding was celebrated on Sunday at the main altar. The poor used the black dress, they got married on weekdays, at the side altar of the Madonna. These clothes were carefully preserved because they had to be used for all the important ceremonies of life. From marrying forward, people dressed in dark and black was the predominant color.
Baptism was another important moment. The children were baptized as soon as possible. Wrapped in swaddling clothes they were laid down in the “door-enfants” and taken to the church by the 'midwife' (obstetrician) followed by the father, the godfather and the godmother. Mum stayed in the house for 40 days and left only after the purification; religious rite now disappeared. Among the other “party” dresses on display, the women's cape, in heavy black embroidered cloth, from the second half of the 1800s is of particular interest. Under the clothes there was an abundance of shirts and petticoats.
The promised spouses spent a great deal of time, especially in winter, sewing and embroidering the trousseau (Fardél). First we wore the wool or cotton fleece shirt for the poorest, then the "shirt" without sleeves of more or less coarse cloth; above this the wool slip for winter, of cotton poplin for the summer. A fine example of flannel “cotin di sota" embroidered in 1800 is presented.
The underpants were long for both men and women. The long-sleeved white shirts with plenty of embroidery were “giac da noc”, night jackets. Even the man wore a long nightgown and for whom this shirt could have been made of linen, the finest fabric. Recall that at that time the man was always considered superior to the woman. Let's move on to the exhibited accessories: a fine silk scarf from the 1800s. Various copies of quefe or veils from Mass, then shoes, bags, gloves. Note how there were accessories for the days of mourning. Among the particular objects a parasol and an embroidered fan of the 1800s, irons for curling hair, pens and nibs. An object that was not missing in the houses was the sewing machine.
From the party we go to work: the work of the fields. Plows, harrows, a machine to be added to the oxen for sowing, scythes and sickles for hay and corn, ropes for sheaves are displayed. The copper sulfate machine, one of the first wine pumps, the press, demijohns, bottles, moscato filters, etc.
The worn work clothes hung from the old coat rack. Woman always wore her apron and handkerchief on her head. In winter, men wore a cape and women covered themselves with a woolen shawl.
To note a square shawl with fringes of 1850, this shawl was also used to wrap children and better protect them from the cold. At the feet clogs and leather shoes with a spiked wooden sole and wool socks.
Among the objects of the house are exposed: oil and acetylene lamps, grinders and coffee roasters that most often toggle the barley that was the coffee of the poor, irons. A 3-plate stove: terracotta or copper pans, barley coffee brunsin, enamelled jugs. Only aluminum will come later. In the table dish drainer various dishes. (Remember that the floors were brick and absorbed the water).
To wash, from the crockery to the linen, to the person, there were basins, basins, wooden slats (garocetta and sebbi) of various sizes, then replaced by those of zinc like buckets to pull up the water from the well. Those who owned a bicycle were already lucky and for the rare trips that often were emigrant journeys, they were enough bags of canvas and cardboard suitcases.
The children went to kindergarten with a blue and white checked apron for boys, red and white for girls. In the basket they brought lunch: bread, an egg, a fruit. The nuns prepared soup for everyone. For the walks or the processions the children wore the uniform composed of the white apron with collar and blue ribbon, cape of paper-colored cloth from sugar and blue basquet. At school, we went on foot with a black apron and a white collar, the briefcase was made of cardboard or wood, and we used pens, nibs and ink to write. Even the teacher had to wear a black apron.
Black clothes and aprons also had the advantage of being washed more than sparse because you could see less dirt (water was a precious commodity and was used sparingly).
The white-collar workers, sometimes even the cuffs, were detachable to be washed more often. The toys were rare and only for the more affluent, but the imagination was enormous: with a little we had a lot of fun. Even the postman had his beautiful sugar-paper uniform: trousers, shirt, jacket and tie. The photocopy of the workbook of the postman Battista Destefanis dated 1875 is in view, when Montaldo Scarampi was still in the province of Alessandria. Note the severity of the rules.
The visit ends here. With the simplicity of the peasant world we wanted to open a window on our past, because the memory of things and values serves for the future of the new generations.