Berg remembered at JC’s Medieval FeastJosh Berg’s chair and plate were left empty Thursday as his classmates memorialized him during their Medieval feast. Black velvet armbands were obvious as Rhys Harries spoke about his classmate’s enthusiasm for life. It was at his and several other Jamestown College seniors’ request that I offered the East-West art history class this semester. I said four years ago, never again, but agreed with their requests, thinking this time, with their help, it would be far simpler.
By: Sharon Cox, The Jamestown Sun
Josh Berg’s chair and plate were left empty Thursday as his classmates memorialized him during their Medieval feast. Black velvet armbands were obvious as Rhys Harries spoke about his classmate’s enthusiasm for life.
It was at his and several other Jamestown College seniors’ request that I offered the East-West art history class this semester. I said four years ago, never again, but agreed with their requests, thinking this time, with their help, it would be far simpler.
It’s the most labor intensive course I teach and involves students making many of the arts and crafts needed for daily life, from clothing and food to weapons. Except that Josh didn’t live to make it through this far, it was what he wanted. He wanted to find out what life was like back then. And back then, just about everything needed for daily life was handmade.
In the class, students hand-sewed simple, period-correct tunicas and learn how to make chainmail. They wind up 17-gauge wire coils (springs) and cut them into hundreds of rings, then using a four-in-one design, connect the groups of rings together until they have a belt or necklace, hood or shirt. Many made a metal rope for their medallions, which they designed. Their head coverings were simple knit watch caps or wimples attached with circlets. Belts of rope, leather or mail completed their attire.
They ate with wooden spoons and simple wooden knives they carved from paint stirrers and leather attached to stick hilts.
Each student researched his or her family and some came up with the family crest, while others made up a fictitious lineage. They did a fashion show during the feast and explained their clothing and crest.
Illuminated Bibles were a means for illiterate people to read, so the students wrote using dip-pen calligraphy and for Valentine’s Day incorporated that history and the written word into an appropriate card for a loved one.
For the feast, they made their own pewter-colored goblets in fired clay. Each had a small crest using an underglaze in appropriate colors for easy identification. Dishes as we have today were not used in the 12th and 13th centuries. Most meals were taken on a slab of crusty bread called a trencher, or on a wooden or metal plate.
They drank essence of roses, spiced hot cider and hovered over champagne grapes and they learned that beef was a rare commodity even for royalty. Since the New World had yet to be discovered there were no potatoes, tomatoes, corn or chocolate on the menu.
A Medieval time period is selected in class to study (this year it was the Crusades), and for half a semester they begin living a chivalrous life. They saw examples of manners unique to the times, learned about unique foodstuffs and cooking methods, how royal household levels differed (think Downton Abbey) from peasant cultures of the times.
The feasting hall (their classroom) was decorated using 4x8 foot panels I painted to look like the interior of a castle, complete with vistas beyond grand windows. Walls were hung with tapestries and shields that dot the walls alongside flags and the colors of the king.
This year’s feast entertainment and theme was chosen to be the Magna Carta. Senior Erin Delo headed the entertainment and with volunteer alumnus Travis Werchau, arranged the evening’s events. There was a full handful of meals served, called removes.
Joe Ikier (freshman) was the herald, who, using a long trumpet, announced each remove as it was brought in to the head table. Each remove consisted of a subtlety for “shock,” a meat, vegetable/starch and dessert. Interspersed were rare fruits and spiced delicacies.
This year’s foods included large and small birds (including swan), their eggs, a variety of wheat and rice-based dishes, gravies and sauces, pork and game meats, including racks of ribs, whole hams, loin roasts and rabbit. There were some vegetables, but feasts were rare and meant to impress, so meats, fish, fowl, cheeses and eggs were the basis of those meals.
This year Zach and Katie Fitzgerald had a suckling pig flown in from New Jersey to Minot, where they roasted it and brought it down for the feast. I had a roasted pig brought in from the Twin Cities. The impression whole animals gave at a royal feast would have been invaluable for the host, regardless of cost, regardless of difficulty.
The swan, whole hogs and piglet were among the subtleties served. Subtleties are not meant to be subtle. They are dishes meant to both surprise and shock, and the weirder or grander they were, the better. They were always works of art. Two dessert subtleties brought a few gasps to the crowd as well. A spiced cabbage cake (made to look like a cabbage using the leaves as molds) with marzipan was served midway, and a large pound cake that took the form of a castle was the grand finale.
Entertainment included Scarlett Bourg and Sarah Reely as belly dancers, student skits, Dr. Timothy Bratton violinist, royal fools and mummers as well as a lovely winter’s end masked dance performed by Amber Orizotti and Ikier.
With the help of JC alumni Jordan Wolfe, the Fitzgeralds, Reely and Werchau, seniors Rhys Harries, Alex Smith, Anthony Roth, Brandon Bodien, Jordan Shive, Delo and Bourg, most of the parts were set. CarlottaJo Rasmussen was beautiful as Queen Isabella, and August Ramasco played King John. The Magna Carta theme set a battle scene for volunteers and faculty, which included professor Cecil Roth.
Father Kevin Goodrich from Grace Episcopal Church attended and was among the royalty on the dais, along with Dr. Timothy and Phyllis Bratton, Dina Laskowski, Lori Hoff and Kate Stevenson, who played King James’s daughters, who hosted the feast.
If anyone has an item for this column, please send to Sharon Cox, PO Box 1559, Jamestown, ND 58402-1559.