Images From Another Medieval Festival

“Nothing is sweeter than love, nothing higher, nothing stronger, nothing larger, nothing more joyful, nothing fuller, and nothing better in heaven or on earth.” 

Thomas à Kempis, 1420-ish

If you were on the very upper west side last Sunday and thought you heard or smelled something a little different in the air, you weren’t imagining it. As it has every year since 1985, the Medieval Festival performed an occupation of Fort Tryon Park.
The Medieval era – the Middle Ages – lasted for 50 generations, from the Fifth to Fifteenth Centuries. When it began Rome was crumbling under its own weight. When it ended Leonardo and Michelangelo were transforming art and cartographers were filling in the map of the planet.

It began with the Dark Ages in northwestern Europe, a time of plummeting populations and mass migration away from urban centers. Two hundred years before the renaissance that began modern history and ended the medieval era, there was another renaissance that laid the seeds for the artistic, scientific, and philosophical leaps that were to come. Europe and Asia became better acquainted through the trade of each others unique food, clothes, art, and medicine. The Christian and Islamic worlds shared their philosophies and scientific discoveries. 

Pulp papermaking, developed a thousand years earlier in China, finally made its way to Spain where the first water-powered paper mills were built just in time for a revival of Greek philosophy in Latin translation. Towns rose again and with them, for the first time, bureaucratic nation states grew, combining the cultural nationwith the political state. Nation states brought warfare on a new scale.

The Wikipedia entry for Medieval Weapons lists over 100 items including the horseman’s pick, the war scythe, and the hand cannon, sorted into categories like Siege Weapons, Spear and Polearms, and Trauma and Cleaving weapons. In Fort Tryon Park last weekend men representing New York City and Long Island bashed each others’ armored bodies with such ancient weapons.

Those who chose to forgo the hunting of his fellow man learned to hunt other species with the assistance of trained birds of prey. Two years ago at the Festival one of falconer Mike Dupuy’s birds flew over the Hudson and had to be tracked down in the wilds of Fort Lee, New Jersey.

The best thing about the Medieval era, and Festival, the thing that ties together and floats above the mead and ale, the giant turkey legs, the clanking swords, the pointed ears and wreaths of flowers, the nimble and the confrontational, is the music. Music theory and notation as we know it to
day was born Medieval times. At some point near the end of the Ninth Century, singers in a monastery in Switzerland experimented with chanting two parts in parallel harmony. Sheep guts and horsehair provided strings for early harps.


They say that when a door closes another door opens. The opposite is also true. When the doors of the Renaissance and Enlightenment opened other doors closed and there is a sneaking suspicion among the attendees of the Medieval Festival that behind one of those closed doors is a world of magic and romance that might be reopened with the right incantation, and enough music and mead.

Images from a Medieval Festival

Last Sunday, in Manhattan’s Fort Tryon Park, about 60,000 people gathered from the 30th Annual Medieval Festival.

If you’ve never been and it looks like something you’d enjoy, you should check it out next year. It’s always held at the beginning of Autumn and it always starts with a parade.

The parade doesn’t always have dragons, but this year it did.

Some of the men (in this case members of the USA Knights of the Armored Combat League – yes that’s a thing) like to hack at each other with swords and maces and such.

Some of the women (in this case members of the New York Celtic Dancers) like to dance in the sun.

There’s chanting and playing of any number of instruments that might have been played in the Middle Ages.

Some things – like pretty maids eating mutton joints, and the quaffing of ales – are timeless.

And what’s a Medieval Festival without a puffy shirt?

Or a gorgeous sunset over the Hudson River?