Ariund the World: Jousting with Modern Stresses at Medieval and Renaissance Festivals
The Middle Ages and Renaissance occur anew each year, thanks to the existence of
dozens of period "faires" and festivals that are staged in towns across the U.S. and around the globe,
Currently, there are currently hundreds of such events around the U.S and it’s more than likely that you live within 100 miles of one of them. So sign on for some fun.
The festivals range in size and duration, as well as theme and the degree to which they aspire to authenticity and historical accuracy. Despite all the effort it takes to stage the festivals, most of them last no longer than one or two weekends-- during which entire communities come together to enjoy the event they’ve successfully created. Weekends are the best time for faire goers.
The larger and better established festivals involve huge social commitments from local organizers. They’ve been prominent on community event calendars since the 1960s, and their longevity has earned them a host of dedicated followers who join in the action every year. Some festivals have educational components, but most are really just themed carnivals, with rides, banquets and lots of dress up.
Medieval and Renaissance festivals that bill themselves as historical re-enactments usually boast a fair degree of authenticity, but they also offer a wide range of fun, fantasy-filled events that are designed simply to entertain and engage local families and to attract hoards of tourists. Participants are encouraged to dress up and participate in tournaments of jousting or duels and to dive into great medieval feasts that feature massive quantities of mead-- often served up with franks, burgers, pizza and Coca Cola as backs.
The proliferation of ‘faires’ across the U.S. and their success stories indicate that Americans have an almost insatiable hunger for Mediaeval and Renaissance festivals. Perhaps it’s their need for escape from the pressures of modern life.
When you step into these festivals, you’re likely to meet a few people who are regular re-enactors and who enjoy taking on the roles of mediaeval characters with names and entire identities. They spend a lot of time researching and making their costumes, train in the use of period weapons, learn crafts associated with medieval and renaissance life and prepare foods that are era appropriate in both substance and preparation. But for most who attend--even the organizers--the medieval and Renaissance 'faires' are sort of nostalgic events that are more focused on fun and profit then on historical accuracy.
For a list of Medieval and Renaissance faires across the U.S, see http://www.renfaire.com/Sites.
In contrast, there’s the amazingly authentic Medieval Festival of Sedan, a town near Reims in the Champagne-Ardenne region of France, which actually attempts to turn back the clock by centuries to create an air of historic reality.
One reason is that Sedan is actually a medieval town. Another is that most of the festival’s events take place around and within the largest medieval fortress in Europe.
Sedan’s fortress was constructed in stages from 1424 to the Sixteenth Century. It occupies a rock spur that was, before the construction of the fortress, the location of an Eleventh Century monastery.
The fortress covers 41,860 square yards, and has seven levels. Tall twin towers and extensive ramparts offer thrilling panoramic views of Sedan and the surrounding valley--views that gave the fortress‘ medieval occupants an advantage in protecting their turf.
Sedan’s amazing fortress is the perfect backdrop for a medieval festival--it’s far better than anything you can find at any American medieval ’faire.’ In addition to the structure itself, the fortress features a museum that display artifacts that were gathered during excavations beneath the fortress, as well as Sedan’s historical documents and objects. During the festival, the museum is open during daytime tours and for torch lit evening tours.
The festival takes place every year for one weekend in May – the 23rd edition is set for May 26-27, 2018 -- with activities scheduled from 10 AM to 10 PM, daily, and medieval lifestyle reenacted round the clock.
For the citizens of Sedan, the festival presents an opportunity to go all out to celebrate the pageantry and heritage of the bygone time when their town was a powerful political, cultural and commercial center. With great fanfare, the entire population dresses up in historic costumes of velvet and gold.
The medieval facades that surround ancient squares and line ancient streets and alleys are decorated with colorful banners. Minstrels stroll from place to place, performing medieval music. Falconers groom and fly their birds, demonstrating their skills. Acrobats, magicians, jugglers and fire eaters perform in the streets, entertaining everyone nonstop. On open air stages, on-going satirical performances make mockery of rich people, poor people, elderly people, children, men and wives, and their antics will make you laugh so hard your sides hurt-- even if you don't speak or understand a word of French.
Around the fortress grounds, some 70 different artisans from Sedan, other regions of France and England, set up colorful tented encampments in which they recreate the essence of medieval life. In the outdoor market they construct, they demonstrate their skills at weaving, candle making, forging, woodworking and cookery. While keeping in character, they sell their wares and serve 'feasts' of meat, gruel-like soup, mead and pain d'epice, the region's unique traditional gingerbread that’s made from a 13th century recipe.
Also in the castle‘s surroundings, there are French and English "military" encampments set up, where knights, foot soldiers, pages and aides prepare medieval weapons for mock battles, jousts and a dramatic "storming of the castle" reenactment that takes place on the festival's last day, just before the colorful finale-- a parade of 500 costumed participants and visitors.
The Sedan Medieval Festival was founded in 1996 to revive the centuries-old traditions of medieval fairs, which were gatherings to which country folk traveled from great distances in order to trade goods and socialize. Sedan’s medieval festival actually recreates the lively ambience and colorful atmosphere of these historic fairs. Attendance at the Sedan Medieval Festival increased from 10,000 visitors in 1996 to 25,000 visitors in the following year and the turnout has grown each year, reaching well over 80,000 in recent years.
Aside from the authenticity of the fortress, Sedan's merrymakers reenact medieval life with extraordinary detail. In fact, most 'wear' festering sores, bandages on their heads or legs, or sport eye patches because, as they're quick to explain, people who lived during those nostalgic bygone times really had quite difficult lives, and festering unhealed wounds were commonplace with all citizens. The fake wounds are among the surprising touches that give Sedan's Medieval Festival a unique twist of reality, one that reminds everyone there are some advantages to living and traveling in modern times.
If you venture to Sedan for the festival, you‘ll find that access to the outdoor markets, concerts and pageants is free. There's a small entrance fee for castle and courtyard, and a fee for the jousting tournament. For further information about the Sedan festival, history of Sedan and travel details including accommodations, directions and other attractions visit http://www.chateau-fort-sedan.