Photo | Gloria Cox-Dockery
Medieval warriors charge into battle at Gatalop. Participants create and wear armor made as authentically as possible to emulate chain mail, boiled leather and plate steel prior to 17th century.
By Catherine Rainey/contributing writer
Our 21st century benefits from a multitude of wonderful attributes from its modern inventions: indoor plumbing, adequate sanitation and sewing machines, for example. People from thousands of years past had plenty of their own struggles, yet many romanticize thoughts of pre-modern, or medieval, times.
Whether the stories are told through mass-produced movies or intimate bedtime stories, history intrigues us. But have you ever wondered what it would be like to experience life before the European 17th century, and also have access to our contemporary marvels?
Look no further, or please do, than the 35th annual Renaissance Festival, or Gatalop, hosted by the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) Oct. 25-26 at Fort Gaines on Dauphin Island. Not only will you get a glimpse of armored combat with skilled fighters, but there are also workshops on bread making, woodworking and outdoor cooking. For the dedicated, overnight camping is available, complete with feasts.
“We are so delighted that we get to hold our event at Fort Gaines each year,” said Lynn Wilson of Mobile (in SCA, Duchess Rhiannon of the Isle, a 13th century Welsh noblewoman and the first Baroness of Osprey). “It is such a special site, not having any medieval castles in the United States. Being able to hold our event in a Civil War fort is the next best thing and really contributes to the historic atmosphere.”
Now, you may be wondering what SCA is all about. This 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization began in 1966 in Berkeley, California. Originally a few history buffs and science fiction fans decided to band together and create a group to express their interests. The idea eventually grew into an educational organization focusing on researching and recreating the Middle Ages.
The first-ever tournament invitation summoned “all knights to defend in single combat the title of ‘fairest’ for their ladies.” After the success of the event, six more were held that first year. SCA now comprises 19 kingdoms with more than 60,000 participants around the U.S, Canada, Europe, Asia, South Africa and Australia.
“My favorite part of the organization is the people,” said Atlanta native Brandon Sartain (Lord Drogo Inn Keilisegr, Viking warrior). “The people I’ve met here really make you feel like you have traveled back in time. There’s no hokey accents or people speaking funny. But the garb, or outfits, they have made and the tents and other projects they have built, even the period instruments that are played — the arts that are created all come together to highlight all the best parts of history. And we cover from A.D. 500 up to about 1599, so there’s a lot of possible times and people. I know ancient Romans and Greeks, Vikings — which is what my persona, Drogo Inn Keilisegr, is. I know ancient Chinese and the list goes on. It truly is a wonderful group of people who come together to make this dream a reality.”
You may be wondering about the chosen names or personas people claim in the SCA. Members within the society usually start with choosing a time period, for instance 4th century Roman or 12th century Welsh, and then decide their character’s role. They fit their costume and activities to that specific role.
Fashioning themselves as history recreators, most members are true to their love of the Middle Ages. Names can be something simple such as Mary of London, or intriguing and exotic like Oisin Dubh mac Locklainn. But one rule is that no one can choose a name from actual history or legend, meaning you’ll be hard pressed to find a Richard the Lionheart.
With each event comes different activities, such as fighting or classes, and usually a Royal Court is held afterward. The King and Queen of their kingdom hand out awards of recognition. Members must earn their awards and titles within the SCA. Whether it be through talent, hard work, chivalry or craftsmanship among other skills and contributions, each member plays their part.
“A friend of mine tried to get me involved when I was in college, and I wish I had back then,” Sartain, or Drogo, enthused when reminiscing on how he first got involved with SCA. “We reunited about five years later and her husband asked me one day, ‘you played football in college right?’ Which I did. ‘You like hitting people right?’ Which I do,” he laughed. “[My friend] replied, ‘have I got a sport for you!’ That weekend we went to a local event and as soon as the two groups ran across the field and crashed in the center of the battlefield … I was hooked! That was almost four years ago now and I haven’t looked back since.”
If you find yourself intrigued, visit SCA.org. They have many events throughout the year and all ages are welcome. And never fear, for in the words of Drogo, “There’s no black plague in the SCA!”
The 35th annual Gatalop at Fort Gaines will be open to the public (including non-SCA members) Oct. 25 and 26, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets for adults cost $8 and children ages 5-12 cost $4.
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