Friday, November 30, 2012

Colonial French Louisiana Christmas Traditions!




Many pages would be required to relate the stories concerning Christmas Eve levee bonfires in St. James Parish, Louisiana. This is merely an attempt to bring to the reader some history of the custom which has experienced a phenomenal growth in recent decades.

Once few in number, the local bonfires were originally a neighborhood or family -oriented activity. Now they line the levee for miles and attract thousands of visitors. Neighboring Ascension and St. John Parishes have a scattering of Christmas Eve bonfires, but by far, the greatest concentration is in the St. James Parish Communities of Lutcher, Gramercy and Paulina.

The event has had local and national television coverage and has been featured in metropolitan newspapers and magazines. The pre-Christmas open house of the Gramercy Volunteer Fire Department and the Lutcher Festival of Bonfires draw many people to the area in the weeks preceding Christmas Eve.

Through the years, there has been an intermingling of facts and fantasies concerning the origin of the bonfire tradition. In an effort to determine the history and development of this unique practice, a part of our research has included personal interviews with some of the oldest living residents of the area. A few of their recollections are included here.

*The following article was gleefully stolen from the St. James Parish website. I hope that they will not sue me. To visit their site, which is just full of the wonderful historical tapestry that makes up St. James Parish, please visit their web site at:

All credit for this article is due to their hard work, and dedication.


Webster's Dictionary defines a bonfire as "a large fire built in the open air", a word derived from the Middle English bonefire- a fire of bones. More to our purpose, other sources define a bonfire as "a festive fire" or a "contribution fire", that is, a fire to which everyone in the neighborhood contributes a certain portion of material.

There is little doubt that the local bonfires along the River Road meet the definition of a "contribution fire". In the weeks following Thanksgiving, the levee is alive with activity as scores of young people work together, contributing labor and material to create the masterpieces that will be ignited on Christmas Eve.

Weather permitting, fire chiefs give the signal at 7 o'clock, and the St. James Parish residents simultaneously set a torch to their bonfires, re-enacting a fire ritual long-performed by their early European ancestors.


In observations made centuries apart, several European writers concluded that bonfires still constructed in certain parts of Europe are the outgrowth of an ancient Celtic custom of building large ceremonial fires to honor the sun.

Centuries before the birth of Christ, the British Isles and Gaul (France) were inhabited by the Celts whose powerful religious leaders, the Druids, had the sun as their principal object of worship. To pay homage to this great source of power and light, fires were built at the time of the winter and summer solstices. The Celts were dependent on farming for their tribal livelihood and believed that the fires would hasten the return of Spring and prolong the days of Summer.

Following the birth of Christ, Druid beliefs were gradually supplanted by Christianity, and the fire rituals took on religious meanings.

The ancient summer solstice celebration spread throughout many nations, and was moved to June 23rd, the vigil or eve of the anniversary of St. John the Baptist, who, according to the legend, represented a "lantern of light" to the people. The festive fires were burned in his honor.

The winter solstice fires, fewer in number, became the Christmas Eve bonfires still burned in certain parts of France. The Christmas Yule of, known in France as "La Buche de Noel", is also believed to be a remnant of the ancient winter solstice fires.

The summer fires of St. John the Baptist were by far the most spectacular and joyful of the festival fires. Wars, plagues and the passage of time did not stop the people from building their Fires of Joy. The custom endures to this day, especially in France where the summer fires are known as "Le Feu de la St.-Jean D'Ete", and in Germany, from the Rhine River through Bavaria.

In June 1988, just prior to the Feast of St. John the Baptist, members of a local historical and genealogical group visited the region of Alsace, the homeland of many of their ancestors. Throughout the French countryside they saw countless bonfires, which, although richer in symbolism, were almost identical in size and regular pyramidal construction to St. James Parish's own traditional Christmas Eve levee bonfires.

On the German side of the Rhine, similar summer bonfires (sonnenwende) are constructed on hill tops and the bonfire lighting is accompanied by the rolling of a wheel down the hillside. In earlier times, the wheel was wrapped in twisted straw, ignited, and rolled down the hill, signifying that the sun, then at the highest place in the sky, was beginning to descend.


The area of Louisiana now known as the River Parishes (St. James, St. John and St. Charles) was settled in the early 1700's by the Old World French and Germans. These early colonists brought with them the knowledge of both summer and winter bonfire customs and traditions which they had known in their native lands. By sharing this knowledge with their many descendants, they provided the inspiration for a practice which has evolved into one giant celebration - the present-day Christmas Eve levee bonfires!

Of necessity, survival and the establishment of a new colony were the principal concerns of the French and Germans who first settled along the lower Mississippi River. These early colonists undoubtedly built a few celebration fires, but early history of the area has failed to record any information about this. As a result, as the bonfire custom increased in recent generations, so has speculation about the origin and development of the tradition.

For example, one of the more recent and increasingly popular explanations is that the bonfires were a "Cajun tradition", first used to light the way for "Papa Noel", the Cajun version of Santa Claus. This charming version, although improbable, has been depicted annually in front of a Paulina, LA business establishment where a levee scene shows "Papa Noel" with his pirogue drawn by alligators named Gaston, Ninette, "Te-Boy", Celeste, Suzette, etc.

Some Acadian exiles from Nova Scotia settled in St. James Parish as early as 1765, with many more arriving in the 1780's, but "Papa Noel" was not yet known to them. It was on New Year's Eve that the little French children received their gifts.

In South Louisiana of old, Christmas was a strictly religious observance, and it was New Year's Eve that was marked by the exchange of gifts and the "reveillon" to see the old year out and to greet the New Year. In Cabonocey: The History, Customs and Folklore of St. James Parish, published in 1957, the author, Lillian Bourgeois, tells of this custom of celebrating New Year's Eve with a gathering of family and friends who enjoyed a gumbo supper, eggnog and the burning of huge cone-shaped bonfires on the batture, the land area between the base of the levee and the water's edge. With the passage of time, these activities gradually moved to Christmas Eve.

Some have also offered the theory that the bonfires served as navigational signals to guide ships along the river, or were used to light the way for the faithful to attend Midnight Mass.

Through 1865 letters still in existence, it has been established that the summer feast of St. John the Baptist was then celebrated in neighboring St. John Parish (known as the Second German Coast) with the lighting of fires and the homecoming of relatives that lived away.

A recently discovered 1871 picture shows members of the Lacoul and de Lobel Mahy families gathered around two bonfires built on the levee in front of Laura Plantation in West St. James Parish. The men pictured are wearing coats and the women hats, but the time of the year is not specified.

In 1989, I participated in a local study on the development of Christmas Eve bonfires in the River Parishes. Many older residents or their descendants were interviewed to learn their knowledge of the history and traditions of the custom.

In a personal interview with H. D'Aquin Bourgeois, son of George Bourgeois, a St. James Parish native-born in 1855, I learned that the elder Mr. Bourgeois, an enterprising merchant, had built Christmas Eve levee bonfires in from of his New Camelia Plantation store as early as 1884. Throughout the year, he collected wooden shipping crates, some as large as 3' x 5', in which merchandise for his store had been shipped. These crates, along with old lumber, were used to construct a Christmas Eve bonfire for the pleasure of local residents and the children of his store patrons. The blazing bonfire, the sound of exploding fireworks provided by the store owner, and the gleeful sounds of the children attracted riverboat crews who interrupted their travel to join in the celebration. Bonfires at this location continued until1930, and in later years grandchildren and great grandchildren of the original builder resumed bonfire construction at the same site.

Another 1989 interview with Mrs. Hilda Gabb Cambre, a St. James native born in 1901, revealed that she had known Christmas Eve yard bonfires during childhood days spent on her grandfather's Magnolia Plantation in West S. James Parish. The bonfires, built with any type of wood available, were part of a festive occasion where lanterns were placed in the trees and eggnog was served to the guests. In later Christmas seasons, kerosene-soaked cotton balls were lit and rolled down the levee. (Could this be a counterpart of the German wheel-rolling down the hillside?).

The use of kerosene-soaked cotton balls was also related by Mrs. Cecile Dornier Jacob, and East St. James Parish resident who shared bonfire stories told by her grandmother, Mrs. Florian Dicharry, born in 1851. These Christmas Eve bonfires, built in the pasture near the family home, were in later years topped by a flag to signify completion of the structure. In a Christmas Eve game, the young boys formed teams trying to hit the flag with kerosene-soaked cotton balls wrapped around a wire frame.

Yet another St. James native, Mrs. L. Boneno, born in 1893, told her family that as a child she stood on the levee of the West Bank of the river and watched as the burning of a levee bonfire illuminated the sky on the opposite side of the river. It was her opinion that the large bonfires, although few in number, were built by the more affluent families, probably those of plantation owners.

While these sample interviews establish the existence of levee bonfires well before the turn of the century, an equal number of people of the same age group had no knowledge of Christmas Eve bonfires in this area.

The difference in recalling the event is understandable when we consider that the rural families lived far apart, had transportation limited to the horse and buggy, rarely left home at night, and had no newspaper coverage of the event!

In increasing numbers, people born in the decade of World War I, in the 1920's and 1930's, recalled small yard Christmas fires and told of the gradual resurgence of the larger levee bonfires. Vividly recalled by some were the levee bonfires built by the families of Welham Plantation, first in the pasture and later at the base of the levee. Initially, the Welham fires consisted solely of an anchored center pole, surrounded by recently cut sugar cane reeds held in place by an encircling wire. Later generations of the family added scrap wood and rubber tires and moved the location to the base of the levee.

During World War II, bonfire building ceased, but was resumed with increased enthusiasm in the post-war years. Slowly, the structures became more standardized in size, shape, and materials used. Willow, growing in profusion along the riverbank, became the wood of choice.

Equipped with axes, hatchets and hand saws, boys of the "bonfire clubs" cut trees, stripped them of their branches and hauled them, one by one, to the chosen levee-top site. The bonfire's center pole was selected, placed upright and secured in a hole several feet in depth. Depending on the shape intended, the center pole was supported by four or more center poles, interspersed with logs cut to a desired size. Discarded rubber tires, collected throughout the year, encircled the center pole, or were used along with other combustible materials in the bonfire's center. When burning, the tires created a thick, dark smoke and multi colored flames. A few days before the scheduled bonfire burning, the boys walked miles to secure freshly cut cane reeds to place within and around the structure. While burning, the cane reeds emitted a popping, fire cracker-like sound.

In the mid 1950's, a residential subdivision developed along the River Road between the towns of Lutcher and Gramercy. With more young families living near the levee, the bonfire building custom exploded!

Chain saws replaced axes, hatchets and handsaws. Logs and cane reeds were transported to the levee top by pick-up trucks rather than muscle power and determination. The structures retained the traditional teepee shape, but with precisely cut logs became artistic masterpieces. Non -traditional bonfires gradually emerged in the shape of plantation houses, riverboats, etc.-structures of such beauty that it seemed a shame to burn them.

With increased press coverage of the levee bonfires, the once quiet River Road soon became the site of a giant party. Thousands of on-lookers arrived in private automobiles, motor home, riverboats and tour buses to join local revelers in the Christmas Eve celebration.

As the number of bonfires and spectators grew, more stringent regulations about materials and construction grew necessary. Environmental concerns about pollution resulted in a ban on the burning of rubber tires or toxic materials. The swamp replaced the Mississippi River bank as the source of willow logs. Safety concerns created construction size and spacing limitations, which were spelled out in building permits.

Little did the early French and German settlers of this area dream that the bonfire legacy left to their descendants would one day make Christmas Eve a VERY special time in the River Parishes of Louisiana. Had they known, they would have nodded in approval as they said "Joyeux Noel" and "Frohliche Weihnacten"--MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Preview of things to come! Christmas is coming!

This is a short note to my readers. I am preparing with the help of many friends, to bring some of the traditions of Christmas from across the land. The areas I want to show are from the Czech Republic, Croatia, England, France, Germany, Austria, Poland, Serbia and anywhere else I can dig up.

So you my valued, and dear readers, if you have a tradition to the coming holiday season, please feel free to leave a comment directing me to where I can find it on the internet. I'll be happy to post it. Happy Holidays!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Company of the Golden Keg-Serbia's 14th Century Reenactment Group!

Here at the Modern Medievalist Blog, we oftentimes have the luxury of reporting on the efforts of individuals, and groups who are absolutely top notch in their fields of endeavors. What doesn't get stated, or is just assumed is, most of the people reported here, come from countries that have cherished their traditions and have established museums and institutions which preserve their history.

In America we have thousands of museums and institutions that are dedicated to the preservation of knowledge, and history. Albeit from a somewhat Western Euro centric standpoint. We also have Native American Indians or Indigenous people who have histories, and cultures that go back to the stone age. For the American Indians, one of the biggest trials that they have had to face, has been the preservation of their history and culture. Most have succeeded to do so in one form or another.

What if you are from Europe, or more specifically Eastern Europe? People as a rule assume, rightly or wrongly that everyone in Europe knows their history, and as far as their culture goes… they are living everyday in their culture …right?

The Pannonian Basin or Balkans as it is most commonly referred to as, is one of the most fought over and historically dynamic regions of the world. Greeks, Romans, Visigoths, Franks, Byzantines, Russians, Poles, Croats, Serbians, Bulgarians, Turks, Magyars, Germans, Italians, and Austrians have all at one time had either overt influence and open warfare in the region or have been covertly influencing cold war politics since, humans stepped foot in the region.

I will not go into the last 90 years of politics of the Balkans. What I will say is that for those who want to know, need to know their culture, their history, their triumphs and their losses, the Balkans in particular offer a dizzyingly difficult challenge.

So it is rare to see the beginning of something. Rare to witness a group of dedicated individuals starting something from almost nothing. It has been my greatest pleasure to have been introduced to “The Company of the Golden Keg.” They are a 14th Century Reenactment group from Serbia.

They are all universally young. With their youth, comes a passion to know, and understand their culture at a bone deep certainty. From my observations, and interactions with them, they struggle mightily against, years of cultural neglect, propaganda based on a desire to create a sense of nationalism that has little basis in fact, outside perceptions of what it means to be Serbian, cultural, and religious conflict.

-All in an effort to know the facts of their history, to accurately portray who they are, and where they come from. I think they are doing an amazing job at it, and deserve a great deal of attention. I am also proud to call them my friends. Besides there is a certain cachet, a sense of craziness that I find so very attractive about a group who names themselves after a pub!

Srdjan Obradovic

Q: Tell us about deciding to create 14th Century Reenactment Company in Serbia?

A: We all long knew each other from forums on the internet, and we all shared a passion for history of medieval Serbia, and especially the 14th century, so after some time we decided it is a good idea to form a reenactment group. We named it after the pub where we hang out –“The Golden Keg.”

Q: Why did you choose the 14th Century?

A: -Serbia was in turbulent times back then, while going through a whole range of socio-economic transformations, and an emerging new social class of wealthy commoners. Again, the "ease" and "low cost" of procuring 14th century armour compared to mid 15th century was a minor point.

Q: At what level of reenactment do you wish to attain? Would it be something similar to Projekt 14?

A: We try to do our best in accordance with our current situation. Which is not that easy, when you know that right now, reenactment in Serbia is still at its beginning. We lack craftsmen, reenactors, equipment, you name it…
Being reenactors in Serbia means that you should be a factotum, and learn the trades of armouring, leather craft, sewing, chainmail weaving, woodworking, blacksmithing, etc. It is easier nowadays, different guys managed to specialize  for certain crafts. We also managed to build a kind of information network…  long story short, we really aim for a high level of reenactment. But current situation don’t allow us to go as high as we want. When you start from scratch you are usually not able to devote as much attention as you would like to certain details.

Q: Would like to eventually participate or even host an international event similar to the ones Projekt 14 does?

A: Well yes… Since there are not many Living History events in Serbia, we have to participate in those abroad. Last year we broke the ice with events in Ukraine and Bulgaria. For next year we have invitations for several more events that are outside of Serbia. About events in Serbia – there are none that are purely Living History events. There is one held at an old medieval fortress Koznik, near Aleksandrovac, organized by a local museum.

Castle Koznik and Fighting in the Pass

Q: What was the significance of the event you held at Castle Koznik?

A: It was the first truly multi group medieval event in Serbia. And, as far as we know, it was the biggest event of that kind in this part of Europe. It took close to four years of planning by a local Heritage Museum in Aleksandrovac. They provided all the money for the organization, the actual event, and trip expenses for participants. We had groups from Czech, Bulgaria, Ukraine, and Serbia. They were all impressed by the hospitality and friendly atmosphere. Also, it is important to say that there is a huge amount of support for this event from the local community. Everybody who would like to come is invited, and most importantly welcomed.

Doba Karlova of the Czech Republic
Modvs Vivendi of Bulgaria
Chivalric Order of Paladins, Ukraine

These are some of the groups who participated at the event held at
Koznik Castle.

Q: What is your greatest strength?

A: Our greatest strength is knowledge and diversity of crafts we all know. We are not experts at them, but we tend to improve ourselves over time. We are all mostly college educated, one of our members is an archaeologist and one is a historian. We put a lot of effort and time in studying of original sources. Our harness is still not the way we
want it to be, but we are constantly working to improve it. There is also a tremendous amount of love, and certain level of insanity - ingredients that you need to have if you want to be a reenactor.

Q: What is your biggest flaw as you see it

A: Sluggishness, which is probably consequence of most members living in different towns.

Q: How many reenactment groups-regardless of time period are there in Serbia?

A: There are three declared reenactment groups in Serbia, but some of them interpret history rather freely. We expect two more to come, but we will see. We do wish the scene to grow with more good groups.

Q: How closely aligned to Serbian History do you wish to become?-Meaning do you eventually want the group to be a Living History Group, that teaches and informs Serbians about their history, by working with a University or Archaeology Institute?

A: Our group’s main purpose is to raise awareness about our medieval heritage. After all, that past is who we are. Those were our ancestors. As for concrete cooperation with institutions, we have had good experiences cooperating with some museums and would not turn down an opportunity to help academia when possible (and get as much knowledge in return.)

Camp Life In The Company of The Golden Keg.
Ukrainian shield after a hard day of fighting..

It should be noted that, although it sounds like one voice replying to my questions, all the members of the group participated, and replied. Thank you my friends for your patience, your friendship and your chivalry, which is humbling in its honesty, and openness.

The Company of The Golden Keg are:
Srdjan Obradovic, Igor Cosic, Milos Nesovic, Vladimir Rodic, Djordje Dragoslavic, Sinisa Vuckovic, Cedomir Beljac, and Dragana Filipavic.

Here are links to the only known videos of the fighting at Castle Koznik:

The Facebook Fan Page for the Company can be found at:

*For some reason the above links, need to be cut & pasted into your server.

Any group not listed or left out, is an error by me and not by the Company of The Golden Keg.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Ripper Moore an American Jouster!

Today I am offering a view into the life of an American Jouster-Ripper Moore. With more than 17 years of experience, he was gracious enough to share some of his story with Modern Medievalist. I would like to thank him for his time and for graciously allowing this interview in the first place.

Q: When did you start riding?

A: I actually started riding late. It was 1995, when I was 29. I learned to ride with the aim of learning to joust. So I started on Percherons and Belgians. The big boys are, to me, normal sized horses and all the others look small and frail.

Q: What was it that drew you to Jousting?

A: I really had no idea what I was getting into when I started training, but once I did I was delighted. What little boy did not dream of being a Knight in Shining Armour? Of course, the little boy has no idea how much work goes into getting the armour to shine, literally and figuratively, but I have never been allergic to hard work, and the goal was so worth it!

Q: Why do you think people, or the public think there is a difference between Jousting at a Renfaire environment as opposed to one of the International events based on a historic model?

A: I despair of the public sometimes. I find that no matter what you or the Master of Ceremonies actually says, the crowd never really listens. I do think however that they assume anything they see at a Renaissance Faire is an act of some sort, whereas they are more ready to believe that an Event is a real competition.

Q: Is your personal armour any different in construction or thickness than say any of the current "Medieval" jousters?

A: There is no 'industry standard' for armour, but most of us out here doing full contact agree that a minimum of 16 gauge stainless steel is necessary on the parts that are getting hit. 14 gauge is better. Also, there are not that many armourers capable of making a full suit of joust worthy armour, so with both these points in mind, the suits that do exist tend to have a lot in common. When I say 'most' that definitely does not mean all. There are those who maintain that well made mild steel armour works fine. I disagree. I have seen too many spring steel and high carbon steel suits torn up in just one full contact tourney. My own armour was made for me over sixteen years ago and is still going strong, although with many reshaping repairs and restrapping.

(c) Kathleen Bodgan

Q: You and Rod Walker of Australia were the two main coaches on Full Metal Jousting. How were you chosen and what was the criteria the producers used?

A: Rod and I were chosen specifically by Shane Adams, executive producer of the show. His stated criteria were the two guys he knew who were the most passionate about the sport. He also wanted two people who knew their stuff but had very different approaches and backgrounds.

Q: The armour that was used in Full Metal Jousting looked like it was an amalgamation of different styles and eras. Who designed the Harness' used in the show? For the casual observer the armour looked to be rather "chunky."-Was this an effort to over-engineer safety into the armour?

A: The armour on FMJ was deliberately designed to avoid a historic model. The show wanted to present jousting as a modern sport and avoid any stigma of reenactment or performance. Mind you, Rod did find a set of armour in a museum which closely resembled that used on the show, but that was just a coincidence. His point was there really is nothing new in armour design. Every functional option has been explored at some point. Still, History wanted a modern look and commissioned armour with that in mind. That said, the armour suffered from one basic problem, which was that there was no way to fit it to the individuals who would wear it, because we did not know who they would be until the show began. They made a lot of suits in a range of sizes and hoped for the best. For the most part, they were way too large. We fitted and modified them as best we could, usually by adding padding.

Q: What was the single biggest surprise or unexpected event you discovered or had happen to you during the filming of Full Metal Jousting?

A:The biggest surprise to me is just how different the world of television is. I have been involved in theatre one way or the other for most of my life and have been on innumerable morning show newscasts, so I thought I had some idea what participating in a television production would be like. I was WRONG. One of the executives, at the beginning, warned me that this was going to be like nothing else I had ever experienced, and that I was entering a whole new world. Even though it was a 'reality' show, I was constantly getting lessons on just how malleable reality is, and how carefully sculpted it needs to be to appear real. Mistake me not, everything that made it to the screen was absolutely real, but it still took a lot of management to present.

Q: What happened to the participants of the show?

A: After the show, most of the participants went back to their regular lives. Even the winner went back to his old job. Some of them, however, decided they liked full contact and have participated in some other tourneys and 'circuit' jousting. I even got to hit a couple of them myself!
Q:What have you been doing of late, and what do you see yourself doing in the next five years?

A: I myself pretty much went back to my old life, which was jousting here and there as opportunity presented. This year I jousted with Shane Adams and his troupe for the first time in a long time, and that was great. There is still some hope for a second season of FMJ, so I would really like to do that, but whether or not, I will keep breaking lances where I can with whoe'er I can. My personal motto is Dum Spiritus Durat, which means: While Breath Remains. So I intend to live up to that and keep being a professional knight in shining armour.

Once again, I would like to thank Ripper Moore for this interview. He is a gentleman in the truest sense of the word.

(c) Eclecstasy
Siobhan Elliott and Ripper

Video Links to Full Metal Jousting:

Ripper Moore vs Rod Walker in Canada:

Full Contact Jousting Ripper Moore vs. Tim Tobey POV:

Ohio Renaissance Festival 2012

All my best!

DS Baker

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

To my readers-

Rumors of my demise have been greatly exaggerated-Mark Twain.

I have had some family issues and a whole host of other events happen in the last week. I promise to that end I will post another interview later tonight/early tomorrow morning.

All my best!

Modern Medievalist will return shortly!

DS Baker

Saturday, October 6, 2012

France: Oudart Renty & Tempus Fugit!

(c) Pattin

Today we speak with Arnaud Pattin.-Known to many of you in the 14th Century Reenactment world as Oudart de Renty. We speak about his reenactment and living history efforts, recreating the Knight who originally had as his Mensie, the village Pattin lives in today.

Q: How long have you been doing medieval reenactment?

A: I have been involved in medieval reenactment since 2005, But I wanted to do such things many years before that.

Q:What made you choose the time period you reenact?

A: I choose the beginning of the 15th Century as it was the period of my first group -"la compagnie de Saint Martin" and also because it is an interesting time period in European history, the middle of the Hundred Years War and the rising of a new land: Burgundy.

Q:Has it been difficult to find or buy equipment?

A: At the beginning it was very difficult to find good equipment. We wanted to be as near of history, of the artifacts, of the period, but very few manufacturers or merchants were doing such things. 

(c) Pattin
Box and Seal of Oudart de Renty

Q:Do you make any of your equipment, or do you purchase your clothes and such from a medieval style merchant?

A:So we decided to make ourselves the most part of our equipment, and to sew all of our clothes, and our shoes, by hand, in the same manner of the middle ages. For that we first used such books as, "The Medieval Tailors Assistant" and then, more and more serious books about excavations and archaeological searches. Only arms and armours were made by professional skilled workers.

Q: When doing your reenactment-do you have rules about what can or cannot be seen?

A:When doing our reenactment we have only one rule: Everything shown to the public must be strictly historical, proved by finds, and from our area-(south Flanders and northern France.)

Q:How many years has it taken for you to achieve the level of reenactment that you have?

A:It has taken many years to reach our actual level. I had to wait more than two years for my actual armour, so I didn't wear it for four or five years of reenactment. Every year we try to do better.

Q:Tell us about  "Tempus Fugit." What is its purpose?

A: "Tempus Fugit" is my own group. I've created it because I've discovered a special character:

messier Oudart de Renty who was a very noble man-at-arms at the beginning of the 15th Century, and was the landlord of the county, and the village where I actually live. With "Tempus Fugit" we're trying to recreate his retinue. It's quite the same goal as the "Bell Company" has in the United States.

Q:How many people are in "Tempus Fugit?"

A: There are six adults and four children currently.

(c) Pattin
(c) Pattin
Mensie of Oudart de Renty
Q:Do you use "Tempus Fugit" as a vehicle to teach others about history?

A:Yes, absolutely. When I do not reenact, I am also proposing "Conferences" (Speeches) on this subject, because I used to be a history teacher at the ULCO (University of Boulogne/Dunkerque Northern France)

(c) Pattin
                                                                      "Assaulting the Wall"
                                                                 Festival D'Histoire Vivant
                                                                           6 July 2009

(c) Grunwald official site
Oudart de Renty, Przemyslaw Rey, Piotr Niemiec-Miskiewicz, and Pavel Ferenc
2010 Battle of Grunwald

Q: Recently you went to Churburg Castle in Southern Tyrol. What was that like?

A: I went to Churburg (Castle Coira) to visit the famous museum and armoury with some friends of mine who live there and are involved in "Gesellschaft des Elefanten" or "Company of the Elephants." Which is a very good group who reenact the same period as us. They also organize each year, in October, a tournament in South Tyrol-(Laurin Tournament) This trip to the  South Tyrol was planned many years ago. I was very happy to discover the armours we are trying to copy.  The country around the castle is also fabulous. It is what we call  "ferrique" or fairies in French.

(c) Pattin

Churburg Castle Gate House

"Tempus Fugit" Also have a video link of their efforts:

Oudart de Renty and "Tempus Fugit" can be seen at their website:
I would like to thank Arnaud Pattin for his time, and for his willingness to share his pursuit of history. Merci Beaucoup!

All my best!

DS Baker

Monday, October 1, 2012

Profile of Excellence: Przemyslaw Rey Banner Leader & Museum Director

(c) Arkadiusz Rutkowski
Przemyslaw Rey is today's subject for Profile in Excellence. From Gdansk, Poland.

Q: When did you begin to study or show an interest in things medieval.
A: I don't know. I have always lived with history. I come from one of the more famous Polish families. One of my ancestors was the first Polish Poet to write in Polish. For me it was a natural thing.

-His ancestor once said, "Let it by all and sundry foreign nations be known that Poles are no Anserinae they have a language of their own."-Mikolaj Rej.
*Anserinae are a family with which Geese and Swans are labeled.
Coat of Arms
From the Seal of Jan Rey

A: Cont.-When I look at history, there has always been a male family member involved or mentioned; like the Battle of Grunwald, I had an ancestor there.

Q:When did you decide to begin reenacting?
A: It was in 1996

Q: What type of reenacting was this? Was it more akin to SCA or living history?
A: It has always been more living history than SCA.

Q:Jumping forward a bit, what did you study at University?
A:Management and Marketing.

Q:Was that a help in your Modern Medieval career?
A: Yes. It helps me every year on the battlefield of Grunwald. I'm the Commander of the Great Banner of Cracow and Babilon. (This is the main Polish encampment and the place where most of the foreign fighters stay.) As the Banner Commander I am responsible for all of the logistics, recruitment, finances, accommodations. It also helped me find my present Job, I am the Director of Grodzisko Owidz, an early Slavic village used for historical interpretation and teaching.

Q: How long did it take you to go from beginning reenactor to Banner Commander, which I would think of is a small army?
A: Ten years. It is a sort of small army. In 2010 the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Grunwald I was in charge of 120 fighters from 14 countries, but this was a special event. Normally I have 60 fighters from roughly 10 countries to deal with.

Q: Which countries sent you their fighters?
A: I had fighters from; Belgium, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Lithuania, Poland, Germany, Slovakia, Hungary, Italy, Portugal, Ukraine, UK, and the USA.
(c) Przemek Czyzowski

Q: During the 14th Century armies had support personnel regardless of what they may have been called. Do you have these people helping out in your encampment?
A: If you count the cooks, helpers, spouses or other family, our ranks will normally swell to right at or just over 300 people during the 2010 event, but last year I had exactly 198 persons including fighters.

Q:How many groups do you work with?
A: I belong to four groups. I interact with another two, but for Grunwald I worked with over 40.

Q: How many people attend the Battle of Grunwald, that are not actually part of the reenactment?
A: In 2010 we had an estimated 180,000 to 200,000 visitors. Since then we manage to get 50,000 to 100,000 visitors depending on the weather.
(c) Arkadiusz Rutkowski


Q: That is an amazing amount of visitors! Do they pay anything to view the battle?
A: No it is free, except they may have to pay to park their cars or buses. It should be noted that everyone in the reenactment groups are volunteering too. None of us are getting paid. Rather we pay for playing out of our own pocket.

Q: How do you see Polish reenactment evolving?
A: In the 90's it was sort of Hollywoodish. We used to wear tights... now we make hose and try to research everything before we come out on the field.

Q: Speaking of research, what can you tell us about your new adventure in time?
A: Grodzisko Owidz is a center for medieval knowledge and a bit further past that. It is designed to recreate Polish life from the Xth Century through to the XVIIth Century.

Q: How are you attracting reenactors for your stronghold?
A: I have started a "rent free" program, where they can come to the stronghold and they can stay there as long as they stay in persona, wear period clothes, and do their interpretative work while keeping their house open to the public.

Q: What direction do you see Grodzisko Owidz going towards?
A: We are in the process of signing an agreement with the Polish Academy of Sciences. I also want to make links and agreements with other universities, museums, learning institutions, and various reenactment groups that I know.

Q:Sounds like you are having to do a lot of work...
A: Yes. There is a lot of work. Paperwork, building the stronghold, I even sometimes have to be the stronghold goat herder!-Which is one of the reasons I love being the Director.

I suspect that Przemyslaw Rey will continue to live a historical life, a medieval life, while staying very much in touch with this modern one. I want to thank him for his time, and especially his patience.

All my absolute best!

DS Baker

Battle of Grunwald Official Website:

Here are some video links from You Tube for the 600th Anniversary of the Battle of Grunwald:

Przemyslaw Rey's websites:

Grodzisko Owidz:

The Modern Reenactor-By Jason O'Keefe

For those of you who have not heard or read my posts on Facebook.-Where oddly enough most of my contacts come from, This blog is about profiling those that are putting their best foot forward. This might mean they are world famous in a Modern Medievalist sort of way. It might also just mean to a circle of people they are well known. In any case I believe with my heart and soul, one of the reasons people are feeling the way they do, is that the tearing down of others, and their works has become all too easy.

You don't have to adopt my views on things. However I believe that if you are one of those persons out there that is honestly trying to do something, it never hurts to read about someone else who is going through or has gone through the same trials as you.-Whether this is in a Modern Medievalist context or not.

My grandfather once told me, "Courtesy costs nothing. But the lack of it can cost more than you will ever know."

It is easier to tear down than it is to build. That being a sad statement I want to change in my life, I have decided to show examples of those who are working hard at having fun!

Jason O'Keefe is a man who has been around the UK reenactment world for a long time, 25 years to be exact. I don't know what possessed him to start his own magazine?-(This is not one of my usual interviews) But it is a very cool online magazine with some amazing links, and a nice listing of international groups by country.  He has also begun trading at the odd reenactment event.

Here are links to his endeavors:

A XVth Century Archery Unit based on the Welsh Marches:

All my absolute best!

DS Baker

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Sunday Jousting!

Today is Sunday in my part of the world. It is a cool morning with a light overcast, and spotty rain. It is a day just made for relaxing.  I am doing my level best to ensure that there is a post each day for someone to read.

To that end, I am going to take the easy way out and share some links with you. Then I think I will go make a late breakfast for my child and spend a lazy day hanging out with her. She told me she wanted a Daddy/Daughter day. So be it.

Enjoy! All my very best!

DS Baker

The Phoenix Joust is almost here!

The UK group-War of the Roses Federation, is a great place to go spend several hours in the XVth Century. They have also re-posted an article on the search for Richard III.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Profile of Excellence: Jacques Marechal Photographer

There are people who take pictures and then there are Photographers. Jacques Marechal falls into the later category. His own biography states that he is from Belgium and he has worked any number of jobs, before going back to school and obtaining a certificate in photography.

Marechal has been shooting professionally since 1988. He rapidly established his professionalism photographing the F1 racing circuit. It was during his travels he began photograhing Castles and other medieval structures.

Marechal likes to photograph historical periods ranging from the Roman Empire through the High Middle Ages.-His professionalism and his ability to capture movement, and more importantly a moment, has allowed him unparalled access to some of the best medieval reenactment groups in Europe.

I think it is important to let his pictures tell his own story...

(c) Jaques Marechal

Forward through time, and through Marechal's lenses we travel to the 13th Century.

(c) Jacques Marechal
Gathering of the Bouvines Association-1214

Marechal has spent considerable time with various Jousters from around the world and also has spent a great deal of time shooting, Jousters affiliated with the International Jousting League.

(c) Jacques Marechal
Caroline Egeman
Uppsala, Sweden

(c) Jacques Marechal
(Left to Right)
Matthijis Wetsenburg, Joram van Essen, Wouter Nicolai, Jeffrey Hedgecock, Graham Turner
Fredric Piraux, Derk Groeneveld, and Dr. Tobias Capwell.

Marechal then takes his readers/viewers through time to various reenactment groups from all over Europe.

(c) Jacques Marechal
Marles 2008 with groups:
ESG, Oplanden, Via Romana, Legio XI CPF, and Legio X Gemina

(c) Jacques Marechal
With the group:
Guild of St. Olaf at the Middlaldercenter

(c) Jacques Marechal
(c) Jacques Marechal
With the Call to Arms 1474
A gathering in Bexbach
-This is normally a private gathering of 15th Century groups.-

For the readers of Modern Medievalist, I hope that you will enjoy the pictures you are viewing. All copyrights to the photographs displayed belong to Jacques Marechal, and are his solely. I was able to load these images by his permission.

I belive that Marechal is one of the finest examples of a Modern Medeivalist, currently operating in the world, let along Europe.
His websites and links are:

On the last link listed above, is a listing with links to books, Marechal has either published as the author or has provided the photograps for them.-His range of medieval photographs are stunning.

All my best!

DS Baker

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Profiles of Excellence: Malina Opatowiecka owner of "Lady Malina"

In an on-going quest to inform the Modern Medievalist world about the pursuit of excellence, I was recently introduced to Malina Opatowiecka of Poland.

To some of my American or Australian readers, you might not know who she is. Malina as she likes to be called is one of Europes biggest medieval fashion and equipment merchants. She is one of the co-founders of SPES-Medieval Market, and the recently launched "Lady Malina" medieval fashion line. Both of whom are located in Torun, Poland.

Recently she set aside her busy schedule to speak with Modern Medievalist, she was most gracious with her time.

Q:When did you attend your first ever medieval event?
A: It was in 2000. I had met some of my friends in a pub, and they asked me to come to the Grunwald/Tannenburg Battle. I said, "Yes."-It should be noted I had six months to prepare for the event.

Q:Why did you then choose to become a Tailor?
A: I had given a seamstress a bolt of beautiful fabric.She then made the dress the exact opposite of what I needed. So I decided I could do as well, if not better. So I dragged my mother's sewing machine down from the attic, and begun to sew.

Q:So let me try to understand... it didn't look period or what?
A: No. No it didn't. It took a great deal of trial and error, after a lot of hard work, I finally got the dress the way it should look.

Q:What then become the motivating factor for you to continue designing and sewing clothes?
A:The group I was in at the time-(Choragiew Ziemi Gornoslaskiej-translated into English as Silesian Earth Banner.) They the group had asked me to sew some clothes for them. I found out I liked it and one thing led to another.

Q:You went to Grunwald/Tannenberg with ChZG in 2000. What happened next?
A: Well our group joined with a larger group, one that is historically called a "Banner"

Q:What is a "Banner"
A:In order for a smaller group to be able to participate/fight at the battle, you need to belong to a much larger group or collectiong of groups. Usually called a "Banner". In the case it was the Banner of Konrad the VII, the White. It was there that I was noticed, and asked to be an Authenticity Officer.

Q: What is an Authenticity Officer?
A: I was the person for the Banner who approved or disapproved of the costumes. I was the person in charge of making sure everyone was in period clothing.

Q:I bet that didn't make you a very popular person?
A: No. No it did not. But I learned a great deal, and the group at first didn't like it. Soon though, they began to trust me and we collectively began to look period, and authentic.

Q: How long after that did you decied to make Tailoring your career?
A:It was in 2006. I had just graduated with my degree in Sociology. I then began making clothes full time. Then in 2007 with my two partners, Andrzej and Grzegorz Zmuda Trzebiatowski, we opened up SPES-Medieval Market.

Q: After that, what happened?
A: We as a group began to turn our company into one of the premier suppliers of clothing and equipment in Europe. On 01.06.12 I then registered the "Lady Malina" fashion label.

Q: How have you done since then?
A: Fantastic! We have really taken our company far. However no one knew that it was me who made the-"this is perfect or I'll buy from you again clothes." I wanted a way to express my personal designs, by coming up with my own label. My commission que is full until April of next year.

Q: In addition to showing off your desing skills, what do you want to do?
A: I want to become a personal fashion adviser. If a client comes to me, they can tell me what level of society and how authentic they want their clothing to be. I can absolutely help them every step of the way.

Q: Where do you draw your inspiration from?
A: From historical, and extant pieces found in private collections and museums. I also look at medieval manuscripts like the Maciejowski Bible, the XIV Century Romance of Alexander, to name just two. However nice it is to look at medieval documents, you have to be careful. Because often what is being written or described and what has been painted are not the same thing. The best sources of design are from museums. My personal love is, to examine preserved historical garments.

Q:How many people are directly working for "Lady Malina?"
A: It is myself, and I have one seamstress who works directly under my direction, but it is my designs, my tailoring, and my creations. If I need to, I can call on other seamstresses to help out.

Q: What are the limitations for "Lady Malina Fashions"?
A:They are only limited to what my client wants. If they want machine stitching, I can do that. If they are living reenactors who want hand stitches, I can do that as well. Regardless of their level of reenactment or fancy dress, I can suit their needs. I will be there to personaly advise them as they need it.

To find Malina Opatowiecka, you can find her personal Facebook page at:

It should be noted, Malina is still an owner of SPES-Medieval Market.
The "Lady Malina" fashion label website is under construction.
To view her other efforts you can find her and her co-founders efforts at:

Their telephone number is: +48 605 309 768

I would very much like to thank Malina Opatowiecka for taking the time to sit through this interview. She very much exemplifies what a Modern Medievalist is all about!

All my best!

DS Baker

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Video Link. St. Wendel Tournament Joust!

Today's video link comes to us from Der Spiegel TV and You Tube!

To Quote the author from the Preview on You Tube-"In honour of the 500 year anniversary of the visit of emperor Maximilian the city of Sankt Wendel organizes a grand authentic knightly tournament. The best jousters in the world, from three continents and seven countries, were invited to a competition at the highest sporting level of a quality that hasn't been seen for hundreds of years."

Enjoy this short post. Another "Profile in Excellence" is in the offering soon!

All my best!

DS Baker

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Profile of Excellence: Maciej K'rol & Projekt 14!

Maciej Krol 
Frydlantsky turaj 2012

 There are multiple levels of Modern Medievalist interpretation that exists today. They vary from someone wearing a Celtic patterned pajama bottoms, with a bed sheet slit open, and used for a tabbard, to those who do not just wear period clothing... but for a brief period of time live it.

"Hard Core"-Meaning in the context of this article, someone or some organization that settles for nothing less than your best efforts.

Maciej Krol- Is a person I have just recently come to know. In the course of almost a week, we held a series of conversation via Private Message on Facebook; who to me exemplifies the very definition of "Hard Core." In the interview below, he tells of himself and his efforts in the Modern Medieval world.

Q: When did you get started doing living history/reenactment?
A: I got really involved in 2009.  I was lucky, a friend of mine was already involved in project Interregnum.
Interregnum was a project involved in specific period of time in Polish history, which was a civil war for a crown in 1382 to 1385-It gathered people of a high level of reenactment. People who were interested in history, not just playing knights.

Q: Where did you go from there?
A:Well Interregnum was a fine project, but soon appeared to be a bit tight for myself and some other people.
We suffer from very little number of good events, I thought that definitely there are people out there who might the same point of view as we had., that's why me and my close friend Aiuto aka Brahenogobius Xantozonus (whose real name is Michal Sosnowski) brought to life Projekt 14.

Brahenogobius Xantozonus
Frydlantsky turaj 2012.

Q: How do you see it organized like?
A:It's something like franchise, which means events my be organized by different people, clubs, organizations; but what want to achieve is, that when you hear about a Projekt 14 event, you know what to expect.

Q:So for those who do not know, what this might mean, can you tell us a bit more?
A: It is living history. So everything has to be proven. Be it armour, clothes characters or events. Armour and clothes don't need an explanation I think-It's pretty simple: find the source. If you are not sure-ask us we'll be gladly help you. Now the events, everything has to come from history. Which means if you want to organize an tournament, it cannot be a tournament. It has to be THE tournament-meaning it has to be a proven event. Not a hypothetical one.

Frydlantsky turaj 2012
Szymon Markowski, Josef Tyechlowicz Bares, Stanislave Armin Beran, 
Sebastian Karlsson, Kare Moller.
Q: How has the response been by the European reenactment community"
A:Till now we had two events by Projekt 14-Honor Vincit Omnia-last year and Calisia this year. Next season we are back with HVO and another event, both in Poland. But we have already been asked about conditions to meet to organize events in The Czech Republic and Spain.-We are glad to hear that it seems there are more crazy people like us in the world, people who are interested in living history-not just playing knights.

Honor Vincit Omnia 2011
(L to R)-
Michal Karpinski, Maciek Zapasnik, Maciej Krol, Massimiliano Simonetti
Lorifactor L. Lewandowski, Kamil Gryzmkowski and Pawel Skowronski.

Q:It is funny you ended your last statement by saying "not just playing knights." What do you mean?
A: A very important thing, most events are for knights, but knights were a very small part of the population. That's why we want our event to get all the people involved i.e. when we had the siege of Vilnius, civilians were there to throw stuff at the attackers from the walls. We try to get everyone involved.

Q: Some of my friends decided to become living history reenactors, it soon became almost an obsession. How has this affected you?
A: So I have found myself really into it. So silk and quite complex clothes and plenty of details, like silver coated spoons instead of wooden one, or glass instead of clay ect. This hobby is endless.

Q: If you could sum up your attitude on reenactment what would you say?
A: We want to have our events to be something different from what you might find everywhere. If you aim, aim high.

I would like to thank Mr. Krol for his time. Considering we were often dealing with a six hour time difference, familial duties on both sides of the connection, and trying to organize our thoughts into a common language. His efforts on my part are greatly appreciated.-Thank You.

Links to Maciej Krol on Facebook can be found here:
Links to Projekt 14 can be found here: