A couple important matters to note:
Our group is fortunate to have many talented members who have often independently pursued their particular interests. This is one of our greatest strengths. But these endeavors deserve and need to be encouraged with the appreciation of our fellow enthusiasts in the Slavic studies. Too often the work of our researchers, artisans and performers is overlooked or overshadowed by the megalithic presence of Western European arts and sciences in the SCA. We often seem to be our own fans so it seems natural that we should be each other's as well.
Few individuals relish the prospect of speaking in public from the podium, even to people they know and feel comfortable speaking to on a one-to-one basis. Most of these same people are often not as restrained when participating in a group as one of the crowd instead of giving a lecture where they are in the spotlight all alone. In the spirit of this, we are proposing a SIG-A-THON with refreshments to nosh on afterwards while we mix and talk, offering support, comments and suggestions.
The scenario is basically this: At this year's Pennsic (1997, time and place to be announced later), preferably on an evening after Paul runs his usual class on Slavic Research, we all get together. Paul will give his usual introduction and recount any events or news of interest to the group. Then the band starts up. This could be either live music or taped. The MC introduces the first person with a short bio and explanation of what is being shown as the person walks down the center aisle displaying their work. This allows our members to place name with face and particular interest(s) without the need for a lengthy explanation that other members may have little interest in. The MC does the same thing with the next person and so on. There will also be table space available to display items that have been walked down the aisle and for those people that would like an even lower-key showing of their work. However, we would like to encourage as many people as possible to participate in the show itself.
After this is finished, we mix and mingle in a relaxed and informal social gathering. SIG is very fortunate to have several performers and this would be their chance to display their skills. Again, some prefer as little attention as possible when they perform, while others require more. The MC could do the same introduction and brief bio on them and their craft. They would then perform either indirectly as the members continue socializing or directly as the main center of attention.
Everyone gets to meet each other and hopefully continue previous friendships or begin to forge new ones. This could be an interesting alternative or addition to the usual meeting setup and the beginning of a tradition as well.
The SIG-A-THON's timing is especially fortuitous considering that Paul Wickenden of Thanet and his charming fiancee, Ilyana Ksen'ia Barsova are planning on having a 16th century Russian wedding at Pennsic XXVII (1998). Like many other aspects of Slavic studies, few of us have had the chance to witness the awesome spectacle that is an Orthodox ceremony. This is a golden opportunity to utilize and display our talents in a project that is both larger than any of us and a rarity in the normal course of affairs in the SCA. It has been in the pre-planning stages for many months now. Additionally, suggestions have been made to video tape the wedding and have it professionally edited and remixed with background music and performances by members of our group. This would allow each of us to have a momento of the event and also have something Slavic to show to other folk in the Society. However, the most important reason would be that Paul and Yana would have their special day recorded in a great gift from the members of SIG.
To date, several elements of the ceremony have been organized. The editing work has been arranged, a Russian Orthodox priest recruited, and sable pelts for various parts of the ceremony procured. Also, since the only appropriate instrument for use in an Orthodox ceremony of any kind is the one that God has given (your voice), Sofron has graciously consented to provide musical and vocal support and should be contacted for anything concerning these matters at email@example.com. There are still a lot of elements to be worked out over the next year and a half. We hope that members of SIG will have suggestions or skills to contribute. Any of several disciplines are needed to pull this thing off. Especially needed are painters, costumers, woodworkers, embroiderers, potters, anyone familiar with papermache or wirework, and performers. People will also be needed to carry various props through certain parts of the ceremony and anyone with a steady hand and a video camera is most welcome to get footage from the various angles that will be needed in the main editing process.
This is obviously a BIG project, but most weddings are. Unlike other projects, we will all get to share in a piece of the pie and everyone■s efforts are of equal and vital importance. In a perfect world we would hammer out the details and assignments would be volunteered for and finished on schedule for a spectacle that others in the Society would have to take seriously. Reality is often less glossy than dreams though, and in that spirit, our aim is a showcase for our talents and a good opportunity to work together as a group. When it is all over, we will have a commemorative tape of an astounding feat and the memories of the fun we had. We are hoping that you will join us in this project. Feel free to contact either the blushing bride, Ilyana Ksen'ia Barsova (Yana), Jennifer Miller, 755 Siemers, Platteville WI 53818, 608-348-6209, firstname.lastname@example.org or Mordak Sergeev syn Rostovskogo at email@example.com (this address is unreliable and if you wish to contact Mordak, you can do so through Sofron at firstname.lastname@example.org).
[Editor's Note: The following are notes for a class that Mistress Soraya teaches. Future issues will feature other class notes.]
MARKING THE PATTERN: You can trace your design on net and then apply it to your fabric by retracing it with pen directly onto the fabric. A simple paper pattern (or waste canvas) can be pinned or basted to the fabric and embroidered through, then torn off when finished. Traditionally, complicated patterns were transferred by rubbing a marking powder (powdered charcoal, or a light-colored marking powder called pounce) through holes pricked in the paper pattern, then painting the design on in very fine lines (with Chinese white or India ink).
CHOOSING THE PEARLS: Get pearl-colored pearls, not dead white ones. String them on strong beading or quilting thread. You may wax the thread unless you are working on satin, which will discolor. Baste a stabilizing fabric to the back of your fabric, and embroider through both layers. Use lighter weight strong thread to couch down the lines of pearls. If you wish to use any large pearls, get blister pearls (flat on the back) and bezel settings that you can sew on.
Buy strings of fake pearls at bead stores or collect pearls at yard sales and thrift stores. Check the pearls for damage. Buy pearls that can be dry-cleaned, or never plan to dry-clean that costume piece. (Feel free to use baroque pearls. Most Russian embroidery pearls were oblong, and drilled through the shorter dimension.) You can get cheap, real, river pearls at gem shows for a price similar to fake pearls. Look around for the best pearls at the best price. They may be as low as $2-4 per strand.
APPLYING THE PEARLS: For each line of pearls, first lay down a foundation of two rows of white cording over your marked pattern. The cords should touch, and the pearls should rest on the slight valley between them. When your embroidery pattern consists of lines or groups of pearls, (straight or curved), work with two needles and threads. The first consists of your pearls, strung on suitable beading thread. (If you are using an existing strand of pearls (or beads), you may not need to re-string it. Just remove any clasps.) If you are working with loose pearls, string enough to work a small area, and keep adding pearls to that thread as necessary. With a second strong thread, the color of the fabric you are embroidering them onto, couch down the line of pearls, following your marked pattern for the embroidery. (You can also couch down pearl trim, where the pearls are fused onto the thread, by hand or by machine zig-zag with the correct foot.) When applying individual pearls, knot your thread on the back after each pearl or after several pearls.
Outlining the pearls in gold: Use tight gold cord (gimp) as the tinselly kind will fray easily. Using yellow or gold thread, couch the twisted gold cord down all around the pearl embroidery lines or groups. Small, raised metal shapes or flat, gold metal spangles (real sequins) were also used to fill or highlight some background areas.
[Editor's Note: Yelizaveta Medvedeva will be giving a class at Pennsic on the Skomorokhi, along with a lecture on the history of Russian vocal music.]
Music was important in Russian daily life -- ceremonies, receptions, festivals, and hunts all were accompanied by music. It was a popular pastime of the nobility in Novgorod despite the church's attempts to ban secular music. Some nobles became patrons of musicians, even composing bylini [epic songs loosely connected with actual people or events, though much embellished with fantasy. Byliny is a term coined in the 1830s, and translates to "what happened". The peasants continue to call these songs starina ("what is old")] or playing instruments themselves. Gusli playing was developed in Novogorod.
The skomorokhi were known as minstrels, but they had many talents. They were also clowns, mummers, buffoons, actors, dancers, acrobats, puppeteers, magicians, animal trainers, and creators of epic songs and tales. They were ultimately described as umeltz - a versatile person.
Skomorokhi were skilled and resourceful artists popular in all levels of society. They participated in every national festival, and their presence was required at family celebrations. Their place in society can be traced back to roles in pagan rituals and plays. They often used masks in these performances, and were said to have magic powers. Eventually, they evolved into the role of buffoon.
An ancient bylina mentions skomorokhi being honored at Prince Vladimir's banquet in Kiev. They were also accepted at Ivan's court - he had them brought to Moscow from Novgorod, and employed them to satirize the boyars.
They are even represented in illuminated manuscripts and a fresco in Kiev's Cathedral of St Sophia, created in the 11th century. This fresco shows several skomorokhi of wearing jester costumes and performing instrumental music, dancing and acrobatics for the royal court.
They are mentioned in folk songs, proverbs, and adages. One, literally translated, is "Don't teach me to dance, I am a clown myself." "Clown" is not a good translation into English for this because of our preconceptions of what a clown is. A better equivilent of the phrase would be "bringing coals to Newcastle".
The church frowned on the skomorokhi, issuing condemnations, interdictions, and warnings against their "sinful plays". These plays, of course, attracted the common people and left the churches empty. Church literature even likened them to the devil. They also disliked the fact that skomorokhi played instruments like the gusli, the gudok, and the domra, since only trumpets and drums were sanctioned by the church.
The skomorokhi preserved and created folk music. They traveled the country and were welcomed wherever they went, but they did not have social rights and the protection of the law unless they became attached to a noble household who would act as their patron. Yet they gained social status in Novgorod. They had legal rights and were respected as citizens. They lived in special areas of the city, and passed their skills and arts on to their children. Skomorokhi in that city developed the Russian puppet show, which has singing and instrumental music in it. The characters have only slightly changed over the centuries, and survive in the present in the masks of Petroushka.
The period of 1598-1671 was one of internal turmoil in Russia. There were peasant revolts, Cossack uprisings, a dissolution of folk customs, and a decline in traditions that was reflected in the songs of the time. Folk songs became full of discontent and began to glorify popular leaders who fought for the common people. Bytovye (songs of everyday life) were often parodies set to church music tunes. "Songs of the Freemen" romantically described the life of runaway slaves on the steppes who became Cossacks. There were satirical songs, aimed at religious and political authorities, about laziness, hypocrisy, and other bad traits. There were songs about the desire for personal freedom.
Skomorokhi remained an integral part of the Russian culture until the late 17th century when a schism started within the Orthodox Church. They were banished from Moscow in 1649, labeled as "heralds of discontent" and "the embodiment of paganism". This had a great deal to do with the popular songs of revolt that were making the rounds of the country. The Patriarch of Moscow ordered the destruction of all folk instruments in the city, which were burned by the cartload on the riverbanks.
Cast out and hounded, some skomorokhi turned to vulgarity and some to thievery. Many fled to the far north with their families, and the skomorokhi bylini that have been collected and recorded came from that area. Those songs are still performed to this day.
The numbers of skomorokhi dwindled in the 18th century, and they were gradually replaced by Western-influenced professional musicians. Skomorokh-based name and place derivisons are still evident in some areas of Russia, like the surname "Skomorochov". They have never been forgotten in Russia because of the rich legacy they left behind.
Wall decoration is hardly a new phenomenon in any human group and can be traced to many groups starting 100,000 years ago with our hairy ancestors on their cave walls, which we still do in our own "caves". About the only exterior murals we ever see in our modern world extend to billboards, the sides of buildings in the artsy parts of the city or the chalk scribblings on the sidewalks of neighborhood children. Even in period, few cultures used extensive exterior painted murals besides of the Aztecs, Incas and some southeast Asian kingdoms. This is not the case in the Slavic world which we are all striving to discover and reveal for its many values.
Wallachia and Moldavia comprise an area from Eastern Hungary, over the Carpathian Mountains east into the Ukraine and south to the Black Sea. With a total land mass equal to Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana, and bisected by an inhospitable mountain range, these areas managed brief periods of autonomy lasting from a ten to fifty years. Just long enough and frequently enough to develop many customs unique to all their neighbors. This area has been subject to countless cultural, ethnic and religious influences resulting in multi-sided conflicts easily manipulated by the local rulers. Until the early sixteenth century, Hungary supplied western influences from Austria and Burgundy, Poland supplied a mild Germanic subculture via the Hanseatic League and the Byzantines had been very influential in setting a very strong Greek influence. Later, the Ottomans who supplanted them had an equally intrusive effect.
During a series of these brief periods of autonomy dating from the mid-fourteenth to the first quarter of the sixteenth century, the practice of wall painting for secular and ecclesiastical illumination and teaching branched to include the exterior walls of buildings. In period, many Slavic cultures embellished porches, window embrasures, and exterior tower copulas, but none painted intricate and detailed murals in life-sized figures on the exteriors of their buildings as is found in Wallachia and Moldavia. As in Russia, the Balkans are rife with period examples of the influences of the Byzantine Empire and many Balkans based Kingdoms refined these new ideas to fit their cultures. In the process, unique and beautiful variations resulted which managed to reflect the Balkans regional values, beliefs and tastes without losing the elements of the original style which were so appealing and attractive. Nowhere is this as radically clear as in the surviving churches of Moldavia and Wallachia.
Most of this art is now found on the exterior walls of these churches and initially developed out of practical necessity of both an economic and architectural nature. Many of these churches are a blend of the cross shaped Cistercian churches favored in the West, the Byzantine love of multiple domed interior ceilings and address the need for a steeply slanted roof to shed the effects of heavy snowfalls experienced in typical winter conditions. The earlier wooden churches in these areas were replaced with layered stone and brick walls that were merely built up the sides of the existing churches allowing services to go uninterrupted for the years of construction and incorporating the original roof by extending the rafters to the new walls. The interior supports would then be replaced by layered stone and brick buttresses.
The settling of these structures and the use of candles for light usually caused extensive damage to the plaster on the walls. Often, these conditions resulted in the delay of interior decoration for several years until the building had stopped settling and the crumbled plaster had been repaired. Hence, these churches were often decorated only minimally for the first 5-7 years. Then the church was painted on both the interior and exterior. The iconagraphy often covered all parts of the interior and exterior surfaces of the walls. These murals were heavily influenced by the Byzantine murals using a mixture of fresco and tempera on the interior and fresco on the outside walls to create richly detailed, life sized figures of saints, martyrs, rulers, common folk of the period to illustrate biblical doctrine with varied and highly graphic landscapes in muted colors.
The first examples of extensive exterior wall painting appear on the church of the Monastery of Humor, built in 1530 and painted in 1535 under the guidance of Master Toma from Suceava in Moldavia. Other churches sharing these exterior paintings are the Moldovita Convent (built in 1532, painted in 1537), the Church at Arbore (built in 1502, fully painted in 1541) and painted by Dragos, son of a priest in Jassy and the church at Voronet (built in 1488, painted over a number of years after 1547). The painting of these exterior walls was a detailed process in which a short period of time existed when the paint would bond with the plaster itself and create a conglomerate that could last through the torrential rainfall and severe cold of winter in these areas. These murals had to be completed within 24 hours of the application of the plaster to allow the paint to dye the material of the plaster. Becuase of these time restrictions, the painting could only be executed over small portions of freshly plastered wall, starting with the lighter background colors and moving to the darker colors for details. The artist would then use the steam of the milk of lime to to crystallize the surface of the mural to protect it from the weather and the fading effects of the sun. On areas that received the intense summer rays of the sun the longest, dyestuffs were often used to strengthen the depth of the bond with the plaster.
The thematic range of characters used for these large murals followed Byzantine traditions for iconography. Generally, a political message was reinforced with the ecclesiastical rendering of different strata of both heavenly and secular classes. A favored theme was the"Heavenly Hierarchy" depicting several layers of figures. At the top would be the enthroned Christ in the guise of Ancient Days, followed by an enthrone Platytera, then the Intercession, then the Mandylion Relic or the Lamb of Sacrifice or Emmanuel in Chalice, the bottom row would have a saint or St. Micheal or St. George. The political advertisement came with the figures on either side of these. These would show the different levels of the nobility and would seek to reinforce the autocracy of the ruler who built the structure and had it painted. Often, these exterior paintings would merge Old and New Testament imagery depicting the resurrection, the coming of the Second Messiah or even a genealogical tree to "clarify" any succession problems between the Ruler and his boyars (nobility).
Often, the Ancient Days theme would depict scenes with contemporary characters, often with the Turks playing the tormentors of Christ, the Virgin, Saints or local rulers. An ever present theme would be the Acathist Hymn depicting sainted figures standing to sing in honor of the Blessed Mother of Christ. All the characters depicted would have their heads highlighted by golden coler orbs depicting sainthood or saintly status. This is important because of the long tradition of calling upon Mary in armed clashes with their neighbors as was done by the Byzantines during the Turkish sieges of Constantinople in the 12th-13th centuries. At the church at Arbore, the Turkish army depicted in the Siege of Constantinople mural was replaced by a Persian army after the deposition of Petru Rares in 1538, signalling the imminent collapse of the anti-Ottoman front afterwards. In Wallachia, this same siege theme was used earlier in 1386 at Cozia and at Snagov during contemporary times to the Moldavian murals. This same theme is also shown in several Novgorad icons in 1458 (Siege of the Sudzalians) and Moscovy icons in 1489 and 1506 (mostly dealing with the Tartars or "Chaleans").
Issues dealing with the Final Judgement and the Customs of the Heavens were also ever present on these murals. In Eastern Orthodox religion, a common belief in period was that upon ones death, twenty-four devils took toll on the soul, each representing a specific kind of sin committed in life. A guardian angel was believed to accompany the soul through the questioning of each of these devils until reaching heaven and the final judgement of God. The only mural depiction of this in the Slavic world in period occurs in Northern Moldavia but survives only in delapitated outlines because they were all painted on the weather beaten northern facade of the churches. This is due to the unfortunate circumstance that the northwest was the only side of this region not assailed by the Ottomans and so, was associated with Heaven.
The people of this region lived in times that saw the direct assault of Christianity, their independence and the hierarchy of their ruler by the constant and overwhelming expansion of the Ottoman Empire and Islam. In the balance was everything that they had known and their first born sons as a human tax paid to the Turks and raised to be the same Jannisary slave troops used against them. They lived a marginal existence, constantly buffeted from within by a rapacious native nobility and from without by the ominous Turk and the severe winters of the Carpathian Range. For them, the specter of the next world was a very real and possible event that could happen without warning. In response to these conditions, they clung to religion and the hope for a better life. For the uneducated and unwashed masses, the stories of the Bible were there for all to see on these churches, three stories tall and life sized in brilliant color, unlike their own drab existences.
Gentles wishing to see these spectacular works of art should check out the best source of these buildings in a definitive work entitled Wall Paintings in Northern Moldavia by Virgil Vatasianu (Bucharest: Meridian Publishing, 1974), which I relied upon extensively in my research for this article.
A large part of what is known of Medieval Russia comes from the events recounted in the Chronicles. The Chronicles are a number of manuscript texts composed by contemporaries of the events related therein. We have hardly any original versions of the texts, but mostly compilations done by scribes in later centuries. This fact creates quite a few problems, not the least of which being the need, for historians, to determine the accuracy of the copying, or the extent of the editing done to early texts.
Because of this, at first glance, the study of Russian Chronicles seems an enormous enterprise involving linguistics, history, literary criticism, paleography, archeology. The complexity of the subject is such that the reading of even one somewhat technical article may deter an amateur researcher from even attempting at all to read the Chronicles. And that would be a pity.
The fact is that scholarship dealing with the chronicles mostly attempts to reconcile facts and figures: dating the events, the language, peeling off layers of linguistic influence, determining how the various chronicles correspond to each other, studying the style of chronicle-writing and defining it...
All in all, complex and fascinating questions, and not irrelevant to our purposes as SCA students of history, but not always applicable to our approach. Instead of examining the texts under a microscope, I suggest that we attempt to read them from the author's point of view. We have to reset our mode of thinking: there seems to be a certain vagueness in medieval texts. But it is only an apparent vagueness, and it is not due to the vagueness of the medieval mind, nor to the naivete of medieval authors, but to a different perception of reality.
If we were writing a chronicle today, say a chronicle of any one given Kingdom of the Known World, our modern minds would demand that we indicate with precision who became king and when, and how he ascended to that position, at what hour of what day the king was crowned, and so for every king. Then we would want to know who was made a peer and for what accomplishments, who was knighted, and so for each reign. Try writing this down -- twice for every year (at least in Ansteorra). Now try writing this down by hand, and with a decent calligraphic hand at that.
And it still does not look like a medieval chronicle.
Then what does an entry in a medieval chronicle contain? Maybe nothing (some entries read "In the year XXXX" and nothing else). Or it might contain accounts of fire and flood, and of the death of a prince, and of some events in detail, while others would be merely mentioned. The emphasis will be unexpected to our modern mind. Where a chronicler seems to relate a fire that leveled a city, archeological evidence might indicate that the fire was actually localized. A major upheaval might come across as some minor disturbance, while a peaceful demonstration might seem like a city-wide riot.
So don't worry about facts and figures. Go with the flow. Let the chronicle carry you. Read it once, and again, and then re-read it. You are not trying to memorize it, but to feel its rhythm, to sense the chronicler's mind, to picture yourself writing down those entries. Do not worry about accuracy: you can get that from modern scholars who have done the technical work.
Now all this is not to say that you cannot join the technical discussion of chronicles, that you cannot read and assimilate scholarly articles, or that you should not (it can be fun, besides being informative). Or that you cannot participate in the hunt for facts and chronology of events (you might turn up something that has been overlooked). My point is that this is not the only approach we can take: we can try, and we can learn to read the chronicles from their own perspective, as contemporaries of the chronicler, and use the texts as models for our on in-persona writing.
A final word of encouragement: for most of us, reading the chronicles in the original is out of the question, and many existing translations are unsatisfactory. But for the approach that I suggest, that is not as terrible as for a mundane historian. As a starting point, I suggest the following edition: Zenkovsky, Serge A., editor and translator, and Jean Zenkovsky, translator. The Nikonian Chronicle (Princeton, NJ: The Kingston Press, 1984). Do not neglect the introduction! It provides a very nice transition from our modern world into that of the chronicler.
Sasha Ivanov is thinking of hosting a get- together for Slavs in the West. He is not looking to put together anything very complicated but just wanted to allow "an opportunity for those of a Slavic persuasion to get to know each other." If you are interested in such a project, drop Sasha a line: Rob Sturtevant, 4075 Weymouth Lane, Sacramento CA 95823, 916-422-3906, email@example.com
Peotr Alexeivich Novgorodski has been to a current exhibit at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City entitled, "The Glory of Byzantium." He writes: "This is a remarkable show. Many original manuscripts and more Kievan Rus artifacts in one place than I ever expected to see. Must see!" The exhibition features mosaics and illuminated works as well and runs through July 6th. An exhibition catalog is available at the Museum for $60 and a variety of lectures and concerts are being held in conjunction with the exhibit. Call the Museum at 212-570-3949 for more information. Peotr, meanwhile, hopes to have his pamphlet on Medieval Novgorod ready by August.
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The publisher and editor is Paul Wickenden of Thanet (Paul Goldschmidt), 755 Siemers, Platteville WI 53818, 608-348-6209, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. There is no subscription fee and copies of this quarterly Newsletter are available free of charge from the editor.