Come all ye lords and ladies, enter a world without computers or smartphones into an age of discovery, weaponry and fried food. Once you enter the gates you are no longer a mere resident of Florida but a guest of the King Henry VIII.
For more than 30 years, the Bay Area Renaissance Festival has been bringing history to life with reenactments, combat lessons, jousting, music and shows. From English accents to jesters and tunics the festival teaches and entertains.
“Today was my first time to the Renaissance Festival, and I must say I loved it so much that I want to go every weekend next year and dress up,” said Natasha Anderson, a festival attendee.
The festival also offers an array of hand-made goods, ranging from swords to costumes, candles to jewelry. Many of the festival workers travel around the country year-round sharing their trade and knowledge with the curious.
Learning through living
The clash of swords, the fight for honor and ultimately death—this is more than a history lesson, history is brought to life. The Society of Creative Anachronism has been at the Bay Area Renaissance Festival for two years to educate attendees on medieval history.
“Fighting is not the only thing we do in the SCA, it’s just the most visible thing we do,” said Juan Garcia Lopez Mauleon, an SCA member. “We recreate history by living it through the arts and sciences as well.”
Medieval combat, however, is an important aspect of the SCA. Fighters dual on the honor system, each individual is responsible for deciding whether the shot was a killing one. There is a Marshall in the ring, Mauleon said, but his sole job is to maintain safety on the field.
“If the fighter is struck in the arm he must then switch hands, if the fighter is struck in the leg he must fight from his knees.” said Mauleon. “ If a fighter is struck in the head, the throat, the upper body, the kidneys or the groin it’s a killing shot…or at least you will wish it was a killing shot. “
The fighters use a wood called Rattan, said Mauleon, because it is very porous and disintegrates at the break point, allowing for fighter safety. Regular wood splinters at the break point and if the fighter didn’t notice it would be dangerous for the opponent.
“It is statistically proven that more people have died, broken bones and gotten otherwise injured playing college level tournament ping pong than in SCA combat. Reason being: safety first,” said Mauleon.
In SCA combat there are several titles awarded to fighters, the highest being a knight. They are the only individuals in the SCA allowed to wear the white belt of purity, Mauleon said.
The king and queen of the society dubbed Sir Celwin Barenjager as a knight after he continuously displayed knightly virtues including chivalry, honesty, courtesy and combat. Knight candidates are also asked to recreate an aspect of medieval culture in today’s society.
“I went and prepared a medieval redaction, which is a modern equivalent of a medieval recipe,” said Barenjager. “Because their ingredients and our ingredients are different. They used things that will make you sick. I recreated that recipe.”
Knights learn how to entertain as well, whether it is telling jokes, singing, dancing, juggling, painting or anything else. Barenjager learned a few songs, which he says he warbles out every now and then.
Each SCA member researches a time period and creates a character based on their research. Generally they research from the fall of the Roman Empire in about 1407 to 1607. Barenjager is a soldier in the army of the Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne and when he isn’t a solider he is an 8th grade history teacher.
“When you look upon these gentlemen know that they are knights and they have proven themselves to be great in the art of war and combat,” said Mauleon. “Above that they have proven themselves to be men of honor, courtesy, chivalry without reproach. They are looked upon as an example of what our society offers.”
Getting hammered in medieval times
No, it’s not a torture device—It’s a drop hammer forge. The small machine revolutionized the way currency was created, but now Sir Cumstance uses a scaled down model at the Bay Area Renaissance Festival to create medallions.
The stamps used to make impressions on the medallions are made out of modern metals, said Sir Cumstance, rather than the straight lead used by Leonardo Da vinci. Using that type of metal caused problems with productivity, because if the impression coin crack, the carver would have to make a new one.
“They are all carved by the owner of the company. The owner is a certified machinist so he is the artist and the carver,” said Sir Cumstance. “ We usually tell people he lives in a cave in Colorado and he has diamond incrusted teeth and that’s how he makes them.”
The coin can have a number of impressions, with a different one on each side. After the impression is stamped the coin is put on an adjustable necklace so the wearer can either shorten it or lengthen it, said Sir Cumstance.
Sir Cumstance hopes to become the own of the Coin Stamp one day after the own gets the hammer. He began working at the Coin Stamp in 2007 when he saw an advertisement from the king.
“I used to work in a blanket factory but it folded,” said Sir Cumstance. “I saw the ad in which the king offered a job in which you sit around listen to heavy metal and get hammered; I thought I was going to be working at the pub.”
Sir Cumstance laughed as he said he was once the town drunk. He said the Coin Stamp usually hires the town drunk or the village idiot because “they are completely devoid of all nerves. When your hand is sitting under the hammer you can’t move it or else you’ll get a bad impression and we like to make good impressions, not bad impressions.”
As the festival travels to Georgia Sir Cumstance and his coin shop will go along with it, traveling across America getting people hammered. He is both an artisan and an entertainer, much like the others at the Bay Area Renaissance Festival.
“I’ve been doing it for three years and it is most entertaining, said Sir Cumstance. “I finally found a job in which you work two days and week and get five days off.”
In a land before video games
A little girl stands with a sword the size of her, swinging it at a large pole as a German solider gives her constant instruction. Her first swing is weak and timid, her second is more confident and her third shakes her body.
At the Bay Area Renaissance Festival attendees can take free medieval combat lessons, even children. The character Hauptnann Fritz who is a German solider leading the company of the Golden Cross teaches the lessons.
The 1400-1500’s German style of martial arts has evolved into Western martial arts, said Fritz. It has become more like Olympic style wrestling and fencing.
“It’s very aggressive, but it’s very entertaining because you don’t parry, you don’t’ block you just attack people,” said Fritz. “If they threaten you, you finish it. In the 15 and 1600’s people didn’t have golf courses to go to, they didn’t have Xboxes. They would go to the gymnasium for that entertainment.”
Fritz started with the festival in Largo nearly 24 years ago, he said. The Golden Cross company has grown a lot since then, now teaching 5 shows a day with more instructors to teach experience festival attendees. He said some of the best students are people who have learned a similar sport from another tradition.
Although they are at the festival in character they use their organization outside the festival as well. Fritz says the system just works. He is the chief officer and makes the decisions, but in the end, he said, they all do the work.
“You won’t see anything lying around here that you can buy at Wal-Mart or Target,” said Frtiz. “We try to create that break from the real world.”
Fritz is gentle hearted, even though he says he has a religion of violence. He teaches children the art of medieval combat, using his accent and humor to guide them through the steps.
“And I cure autism,” said Fitz. “Twice now I’ve given somebody one of those crystal moments where they snap out of that other place they were. I think it’s the goody accent and dress and I am a dad and I have daddy voice. I never really tried to do it. “