Public radio from Western Michigan University 102.1 NPR News | 89.9 Classical WMUK
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
0000017c-60f7-de77-ad7e-f3f739cf0000Arts & More airs Fridays at 7:50 a.m. and 4:20 p.m.Theme music: "Like A Beginner Again" by Dan Barry of Seas of Jupiter

Chivalry Lives on Through Medieval Reenacters

courtesy of The Society for Creative Anachronism

The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in Kalamazoo is a public event put on by the Society for Creative Anachronism—an international group that tries to recreate pre-17th century Europe as best they can.

Dan Mondoux and his wife ChannonRussette-Mondoux of Portage are both trained as sword fighters in the SCA. In fact, they met at this same event about 20 years ago.

This weekend Mondoux and other knights will don armor and cross blades—or in this case bamboo rods also known as rattans.

“If I’m struck with a telling blow in the head, I’m defeated," Mondoux explains. "If I’m struck in the body, likewise. If I’m struck in a limb, I lose the use of the limb. So if I’m hit in the arm, I can no longer fight with that arm.”

Mondoux says unlike other forms of Western martial arts, there are no referees in the SCA.

“The person themself decides whether they’ve been bested, whether they’ve been defeated," Mondoux says. "So it’s kind of like ‘call your deads’ so to speak. So if I’m struck, I am the judge of whether I was struck with sufficient force.”

It’s not all about sword fighting; just about every kind of craft, art, or science that was pursued in the Middle Ages is practiced by at least one member of the SCA. Former SCA queen Christine Wittenbach says it’s really the best way to learn.

“It gives you a chance to not just look at embroidery in a book, but to actually do that embroidery or see someone else who’s wearing it," she says. "Or weaving—there are people who will weave all day long and you can go help them and learn how to do that.”

As queen, Wittenbach said she was more of a figurehead. The group does not govern like the feudal systems of the Middle Ages.

Members of the SCA aren’t like entertainers in a renaissance faire or self-made characters in a role playing game. Wittenbach says they’re more like Civil War reenactors. Though the organization accepts people of all skill levels, some members’ work could only be more authentic if it was actually made in medieval times.

Channon Russette-Mondoux is what the society calls a 'laurel.' This means Russette-Mondoux is seen as one of top artisans in the SCA. For Russette-Mondoux, the honor was bestowed because of her research on medieval cooking in Europe as well as other parts of the world.

Russette-Mondoux recently made a first century Roman dish that turned out a lot like 'turducken.'

“Where you have a turkey that’s been stuffed with a goose that’s been stuffed with a chicken—well, or a duck. In this case it was a piglet, a 35 pound piglet, that was stuffed with pork loin that had been rolled in chicken and a bunch of other ingredients. And then it was sewn up and spitted," she says. "And we roasted it for 18 hours.”

Russette-Mondoux says in the SCA, chivalry doesn’t always mean rescuing a damsel in distress. Another member of the SCA, Melody Faith, made Russette-Mondoux a hand painted and illuminated scroll for her when she became a laurel.

“I don’t know the actual value of it because the value to me is intrinsic," says Russette-Mondoux. "But to the outside world, that is a reproduction manuscript page. And I’m going to hazard a guess and say it’s worth multiple hundreds of dollars. That was given to me to acknowledge the day that I was recognized as a peer of the Society. I mean that’s a pretty incredible gift for someone to give.”

Russette-Mondoux practices chivalry in her own way. She teaches medieval cooking to 12 apprentices for free, just like her mentors did when she joined at age 24.

“It was really incredible to meet a group of people who were so willing to share their love for what they did,” she says.

The Society for Creative Anachronism’s St. Valentine’s Day Massacre will be held at the Kalamazoo Expo Center on Saturday. To attend, the SCA asks that you at least attempt to dress in pre-17th century European garb.

EXTRA: Hear how Channon Russette-Mondoux outwitted a robber

Related Content