Exploring the vast and exciting world of medievalism all around us.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Welcome to Pilgrimage

Today the Roving Medievalist got to visit the Shrine of St.Thomas a Becket. Not quite in Canterbury, delightful as a November trip to England might have been, but at St. John's in the Village Episcopal Church. The event, called "Welcome to Pilgrimage," featured a reproduction of the shrine of St. Thomas (see left) in the sanctuary, with a storyteller/nun leading tours, showing pictures of Canterbury Cathedral, and explaining just who this guy was. Although we were not invited to climb the stairs in front of the shrine on our knees, the reproduction had a cheerful quality that the original might not have; it resembled a large reliquary (but not large enough to hold all of the Saint) with sparkly jewels and silver curlicues all over it.

Visitors were also able to visit a Medieval "Street" fair (it was inside!), with various stalls--the Calligrapher, clothier, metalsmith, needle worker, stained glass maker, and wood worker's stalls. Throughout, there was music supplied by a green-clothed harper. A the calligrapher's stall, we made seals to authorize our own documents; the clothier told about Thomas' medieval vestments and invited participants to make Thomas a Becket paper dolls; the metalsmith offered rubbings; the needleworker was making banners for the procession, onto which we were encouraged to glue decorations of felt and jewels; the stained glass maker was a hit with the lovely medieval ladies featured above, who all made mini-windows to hang in their maxi-windows; the woodworker showed us how to make frames out of popsicle sticks.
Because no fair is complete without food, the Baker's Stall offered meat and vegetable pies (the Roaving Medievalist particularly enjoyed the mushroom variety, and horrified one of the hosts by suggesting that there traditionally were raisins in the beef pies to cover up the taste of rotten meat), cheese gnocci (delicious; thank you!), apples, and cider.
The fair ended with a procession with a bagpiper (the Miller leading us out of town, perhaps?); the decorated banners were carried into the shrine where evensong was celebrated. (A link to the announcement is below.)
The event was not particularly authentic, although it was great fun. After all, it's not April. And none of the crafts, apart from the seals, were particularly medieval in their actual form. But the spirit was an authentic mix of spiritual and secular; while the fair itself was primarily a secular affair, the particular nature of some of the crafts reminded us of what the impetus for the event actually was, and what would have brought pilgrims to Canterbury in the first place; however enticing the collecting of pilgrimage badges might have seemed, the real reason was the visit to the shrine. The flyer said, "We hope that you enjoy your medieval experience today and that what you learn will say something to you about your own pilgrimage and search for what is meaningful and holy in your life."
The Roving Medievalist is reminded about what is meanigful in the search for medieval vestiges in our own culture by this; even if the event is not truly medieval, or truly authentic, it tells us tha there is something inherently valuable in looking back to the Middle Ages for certain elements of popular experience, of the handmade over the mass produced, of the function of the communal experience in our individual lives; of the things that drew people together and how they might still draw us together for the kinds of experience that bring us to the edge of transcendence. We don't need a medieval fair to do this, but it does suggest something about that historical moment that we desire to reclaim and something about the way it speaks to us still.