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Re-enactors revive the culture of Middle Ages

Bangor Daily News | BDN
Bangor Daily News | BDN
Mattaeus Plantersohn, a.k.a. Matthew Johnston, displays some of the handiwork of his knight's suit of armor during a medieval festival at the Maine Discovery Museum in Bangor, Saturday, April 3, 2010. Museum visitors learned what life was like during medieval times from members of The Shire of Endewearde, who dressed in period costumes and re-enacted that time period during the one day event. BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY MICHAEL C. YORK
By Meg Haskell, BDN Staff

BANGOR, Maine — Children visiting the Maine Discovery Museum on Saturday encountered a culture of kirtles and codpieces, gemshorns, trebuchets and liripipes.

The Shire of Endewearde, a local branch of the international Society for Creative Anachronism, brought the medieval world to the museum for the day, providing children and their families with an opportunity to explore the clothing, weaponry, music and vocabulary of the European Middle Ages.

In an upstairs room of the museum, Lady Aneleda Falconbridge, aka Monique Bouchard of Old Town, showed a small group of youngsters how to create a medieval scroll, composing stylized messages on ornately bordered paper that could then be illuminated with crayons, markers or colored pencils.

“Greetings unto Lady Asvre,” Lady Aneleda penned in an elaborate hand for a fascinated 4-year-old Makana Wolfrum of Camden, who was at the museum with her family. “I wish to tell you news of a fairy that glows. I have seen one, too. I am, your friend Makana.”

Makana’s older sister Katie was practicing serifs and flourishes with the calligraphy pen, and had the ink-smudged fingers of a scribe to show for it.

“I love the pens,” Katie said. “I want to get one.”

Calligraphy pens, including professional models with interchangeable nibs, are available at Borders, Lady Aneleda told the girls — casually bridging centuries of history in a single sentence.

The Society for Creative Anachronism is dedicated to researching and re-creating the arts and skills of pre-17th century Europe. With more than 30,000 dues-paying members worldwide and many times that in nonmember “players,” the organization holds festivals, tournaments, feasts, workshops, dances and other events aimed at advancing appreciation of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.

The Shire of Endewearde, with about 80 paying members, uses Bangor’s Thomas Hill Standpipe as its heraldic emblem. “Endewearde” means “end of the world,” a reference to Maine’s far-flung location, although the state sits close to the geographic center of the Knowne World, according to the society’s map of kingdoms worldwide.

Membership in the Society for Creative Anachronism “skews heavily toward computer geeks,” and others with technical backgrounds and professions, Bouchard said. A graphic designer by trade, Bouchard added that the group provides an outlet for all manner of creative expression.

Bouchard was elegantly dressed as a noblewoman of a 14th century household. Her long scarlet overdress had detachable sleeves and so many buttons, she said, that it required a servant’s help to get into. It fastened over a plain linen kirtle, or underdress.

She also demonstrated the proper head covering for a woman of her social standing: a conical black hood with an ornate fabric tail, or liripipe, hanging down past her shoulders. A respectable married woman, she explained, should never show her hair in public.

Downstairs at the museum, youngsters took turns flinging Hershey’s Kisses across the room from a tabletop trebuchet as builder Gottlieb Von Freiburg — Lance Case of Hampden — explained that in ages gone by, the trebuchet was used to hurl everything from boulders to rotting animal corpses at castle walls and enemy troops.

The youngsters examined a variety of gemshorns — flutelike instruments made from the polished horns of oxen. When blown into gently, the gemshorn produces a haunting and delicate tone similar to the sound of a recorder.

Children stared in mute wonder at Mattaeus Plantersohn — Matthew Johnston of Dedham — who was clad from clavicle to kneecap in a steel suit of armor similar to that worn by German troops in the 1500s. He fashioned the armor by hand over a period of two years, he said, including a finely articulated gauntlet, or hand covering. He also displayed weighty garments of chain mail, a shirt and a hood, made out of small rings of stainless steel.

“It’s a good way to pass the time while you’re watching TV,” he said.

Johnston also sported a colorful padded woolen codpiece — a projecting pouch covering his private parts. Johnston explained that the function of the codpiece was largely protective, but he acknowledged it also could be an intimidating display of male prowess.

Most of the clothing, tools, weaponry and other props used by the enthusiastic members of the society are made by hand with attention to detail and historical accuracy.

Aspiring member Elsbeth Ksyniak of Old Town got hooked about a year ago.

“Most people don’t know anything about medieval stuff,” she said. “I love the beautiful way they lived.” Though at 14 she’s too young to join as a full-blown member, Ksyniak attends as many local events as she can and helps out with organization and publicity.

For more information about the Society for Creative Anachronism, the Shire of Endewearde and coming events, visit http://scamaine.com.

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