Summer AS XLI (2006)
Volume XI, Issue 4 (#42)

From the Nachalnik

It’s the end of our eleventh year as an organization. Our numbers have dwindled a bit as the Group has become more web-based and e-list centered. The days when our primary means of communication was this newsletter or our annual get together at Pennsic have metamorphosed to a much larger (and harder to quantify) entity. I continue to appreciate the submissions I am sent for Slovo as well as the words of encouragement I receive. I’m especially thankful to Marija for organizing this year’s gathering at Pennsic (see below) as well as the efforts of others in organizing get togethers at other events around the Known World. While my trips to Pennsic are now fairly infrequent and short, I do believe in keeping the old traditions going. I hope that you will make an appearance if you are at War.


Pennsic Update

Æthelmearc Royal has graciously granted use of its pavilion area to the Slavic Interest Group for our meeting at Pennsic! This meeting is planned for the Wednesday, August 16 from 2 PM until 4 PM. Please bring your books, garb, projects, questions, and ideas. We plan to have a great time. Munchies will be available. For more information, contact Marija Kotok (Marilyn Kinyon, 1598 Sawmill Rd, Hedgesville WV 25427, 706-862-6439, mamalynx@allvantage.com).

In addition, a number of classes are on the schedule that may be of interest to SIG members. As always, check the schedules early and often when you get there as plans change and classes get cancelled or rescheduled.

Thursday the 10th
11:00 AM – Slavic Medieval Archaeological Discoveries by Michael de Safita [AS 12]. Fee.

Monday the 14th
11:00 AM – Introduction of Kievan Rus by Peotr Alexeivich [AS 05].
12:00 PM – Russian Icons from St Luke to Cimabue by Magdalena Gdanska [AS 06].
2:00 PM – Designing Russian & Slavic Illumination by Marija Kotok [Æthelmearc Scribal Pavilion]. Fee.
3:00 PM – Hungarian Names 101 by Kolozsvari Arpadne Julia [AS 03].
3:00 PM – Byzantine Icon Painting by Dosalena Sophia della Mirandola [Guild Mirandola Merchant Booth]. Fee.

Tuesday the 15th
11:00 AM – Slavery in Kievan Rus by Peotr Alexeivich [AS 05].
3:00 PM – Baba Yaga: the Arch-Villainess of Russian Folklore by Luceta di Cosimo [AS 12].
4:00 PM – Pagan Beliefs in Ancient Russia by Luceta di Cosimo [AS 12].

Thursday the 17th
11:00 AM – Sarmatian Baroque: Men's and Women's Clothing in Renaissance Poland by Zygmunt Nadratowski [AS 06].

Friday the 18th
2:00 PM – Pagan Beliefs in Ancient Russia by Luceta di Cosimo [AS 12].
3:00 PM – Baba Yaga: the Arch-Villainess of Russian Folklore by Luceta di Cosimo [AS 12].


Orthodox Ecclesiastical Embroidery
Part Three: Recreation

By Ivan Matfeevich Rezansky

[Author’s note: I recently finished reproducing a 16th century Russian pelena, or embroidered icon hanging. This article, part three of three, is the result of that project and the accompanying research. In parts 1 and 2, I discussed the origins of Orthodox ecclesiastical embroidery, its adoption in medieval Russia, and historical methods of production]

As an embroiderer with a Russian persona, I have long been fascinated by the pieces of ecclesiastical embroidery shown in T. N. Manushina’s book on the collection in Zagorsk, an important monastic center outside of Moscow which I once had the privilege to visit. Having practiced several methods of early period embroidery, I was interested in working on a piece using late period Russian style and methods, and in particular using the gold-working skills I had been introduced to at an event in 2002. At the time, I had no practical experience doing split stitch or gold-working, and decided to create a piece where I could utilize both techniques.

The first step was to identify a theme and format for the piece I was to work. I was particularly inspired by the expressive quality of an icon of the Ascension reproduced in Maiasova’s text. The Ascension depicts a scene in Acts 1:6-12 when Christ was raised from Earth back into the Heavens, witnessed by the apostles. In the Biblical text, two angels are present at this event, pointing out its significance. The iconic image of this scene, formalized around the ninth century, shows the Virgin Mary and twelve apostles in this scene, although the Bible does not mention that Mary was present at the Ascension, and at that point in Acts there were only eleven apostles. Mary’s presence is primarily symbolic in this scene and the twelfth apostle may represent either Matthias or St. Paul, who were both called to spread the word of God after this event. Christ is variously seen in either adult or child form in this scene; showing Him as a child emphasizes His place as Son in the Holy Trinity.

I intentionally did not set out to do an exact replica of the work which inspired my project. First of all, the original was worked on velvet, which was not used until relatively late period in the Orthodox Church, and which I realized would be very difficult to keep in good shape over the course of the project. I decided instead to pick a fabric more commonly used in period. As was done in Medieval Russia, I chose the nicest fabric I was able to find and could afford to obtain, and ended up selecting damask. Silk damasks are seen in many period pieces. As silk damask was not available, I selected a cotton damask which had a sheen and feel that gave a reasonable approximation of silk. This material was light green in color and displayed a raised leaf-shaped pattern. This fabric is very similar to the yellow damask used in a pelena displayed in the Treasures of the Kremlin exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (see reproductions in Gosudarstvennye muzei, pp. 111-112), as well as several pieces in Maiasova’s book (plates 15 and 16), and is almost identical in color to the ground fabric of an Aër in the Zagorsk collection (see reproductions in Manushina, p. 171).

Knowing that icons were often drawn from “pattern-books” in period, I borrowed heavily from the arrangement in the source piece. I first drew out the icon on paper, purposefully retaining the somewhat “cartoon-like” appearance of human figures seen in period embroideries. After looking through several collections of works and reading up on the subject I decided to reproduce my work as a pelena or embroidered icon, as this form was particularly common in Russian embroidery. Once the icon had been drawn out, I transferred this design to the fabric and used ink to make the lines permanent so the design would remain visible throughout the course of the project.

As I cut the fabric for the project, it became quickly apparent that the loose weave in areas of the damask pattern made the fabric highly susceptible to fraying. The fabric also threatened to pull and gap excessively as even the slightest tension was applied to it while stringing the embroidery frame or during the embroidery process. To counteract this, I backed the damask with a sturdy cotton-linen fabric. There was precedence for linings such as this on period pieces, and it stabilized the fabric enough to last throughout the project.

As the exact colors used varied greatly in various Ascension icons reproduced in my source texts, I took the liberty of picking colors and combining them in ways which contrasted nicely with the color of the ground material while remaining true to period works. The figures were first outlined in black silk using 2-strand satin stitch and then were filled in using 2-strand split stitch in colored silk. The fields were filled in modeled fashion, that is, the stitches follow the lines and contours of the clothing or area filled. Faces, hands, and feet were stitched in a flesh-colored silk, again modeled in 2-strand split stitch. Hair was colored using strands of 2 shades of brown worked at the same time, a technique seen in both Byzantine and Russian works (Johnstone, p. 72. See also Maiasova, various plates, including plate 39).

Note that fields were filled entirely in a single color as was commonly done in Russian works. Except for very large figures, my analysis of the various works reproduced in the books in my bibliography shows that it was uncommon to see in Russian works the kind of color shading typical in Opus anglicanum. The ground was covered in a golden-yellow color using horizontal stitches to better contrast the primarily vertical stitches used in the figures’ clothing. A three-strand stem stitch was worked around the design to border the embroidery.

Real gold was not feasible for this project because of cost, but I was able to find a supplier of imitation Japan gold. This is produced using a thin strip of gilded metallic foil, wrapped around a thread core, and is very similar to the gold used on period pieces.

For the various halos, I chose to lay the gold in modeled fashion, following the curve of the outer rim of the halo, and couched the gold using yellow silk. The result is a flat, rounded appearance reminiscent of painted icons, and is seen occasionally in period embroidery. For the angels in the lower half of the work I used colored silk to couch down the gold. This practice was sometimes used in period (see, for example, the reproduction in Manushina, pp. 180-181), and produces a tint of color that accentuates the gold. The gold thread in these areas was laid down in double rows, and then couched in colored silk thread. These areas, as well as the halos, are all worked in surface couching. The gold remains above the ground fabric and the silk couching stitches are clearly visible above it. The gold was worked in adjacent sections in different directions to better distinguish the pattern; so, for example, on the angel on the left the body is worked in mainly vertical rows, while his arm is worked in horizontal and diagonal rows of gold.

As in the original, the angels in the sky are worked in color to contract the heavy use of gold in the central figure. I picked blue and red as the color of their outfits to mirror the blue and red Or nué used on the angel figures below. Their wings and halos were worked in gold, and the outline stitches were covered in dual rows of gold to emphasize their divine nature. The nimbus and Christ’s outfit were also worked in gold, so as to catch and hold the viewer’s attention.

I decorated the angels’ wings with a diamond diaper pattern. I laid the gold thread vertically with couching stitches in a slightly darker silk (the same golden-brown color I used for the ground below). This darker silk produces enough of a color distinction to produce a shadow-like effect which gives the gold here a quilted appearance. A similar method was used to create a basket-weave effect in the nimbus and a zig-zag pattern for the robes. At first, I attempted to execute the couching patterns by eye-sight alone, but the effect was quite unsatisfying. After some experimentation, I came up with a much better technique. Before laying down any gold threads, I first laid out the couching pattern I desired in single-strand silk threads directly on the foundation fabric. These lines were couched down tightly at any points of intersection to prevent them from shifting about. I then laid down the gold, placing a couching stitch wherever the gold thread crossed over these guidelines. This technique produced a much more even and satisfying effect. For the nimbus, I laid down horizontal guidelines and then laid the gold down vertically; the gold was couched on alternate rows to produce a nice, even basket weave.

At the top of the icon is the phrase Voznesenie Khsvo, Slavonic for “The Ascension of Christ.” Above Mary’s head is an abbreviated inscription for the Greek for Mother of God. Although this is a Russian icon, it was common in both painted and embroidered work to see Greek abbreviations, in particular IC XC (Jesus Christ). Both inscriptions were embroidered in gold worked side to side across the width of the letter stroke. This thread was underside-couched, meaning that the couching stitch was pulled firmly so that the corner where the gold was turned was pulled down through the fabric to the reverse side. This gives the edges of the letters a clean and sharp appearance. This took quite a bit of work, as the backing fabric made it very difficult to pull the gold through the fabric, and the couching thread was prone to snap under that much tension. To make this process easier, I used a larger needle as an awl to prepare the hole through which the gold would be pulled.

I used natural river pearls, strung on black silk cord and couched to the piece using black silk thread, around the edges of the various figures’ halos. I then finished the work by attaching another length of the same brocade to the cover the reverse side of the embroidery work. As none of the pictures of podea or peleny showed how they would have been suspended beneath an icon, I improvised and added loops at the top of the piece so it could be suspended from a rod. The embroidered area ended up approximately 13” x 9” in size.

 

Final Thoughts on the Work
I must question whether I might have picked something much smaller as my first foray into stem-stitch and gold-working, had I realized the scope of the project when I began. The project took somewhere in the vicinity of 600 hours to complete spread out over 13 months, and the materials for this piece probably cost between $100 and $200. But, I am extremely happy with the results and found the project very enjoyable and a good learning experience.

The gold-working was a skill that grew on me. At first I found it very difficult to get the gold to cooperate and lay down exactly where I wanted it, but by the end of the piece, when I was working on the figures in the sky, I found gold-working very enjoyable. If I had the piece to do over, I probably would use a diapering method on the halos as I did on the figures in the sky, as this was more commonly seen in period. I am nevertheless happy with the results I achieved using the methods I selected. The underside couching was extremely frustrating as the couching thread had a tendency to snap under the force required to pull the gold through the lining material. I have since learned that this may be easier using waxed linen thread of about the same diameter as the gold thread. The surface couching, on the other hand, worked very well for the patterned areas.

For the satin stitching, I would probably use shorter stitches on future works, especially if they were intended to be worn, but I think that the effect I produced using approximately 1/8 to 1/4 inch stitches on this work worked well for showing off the sheen of the silk and producing a “painted” effect.

Over the course of this project, I gained a new respect for needle workers and other artisans who produced iconic art in the Middle Ages. Some of the pieces I’ve seen reproduced in books are truly enormous in scope, and it would take a high level of dedication to complete those projects over the course of up to 10 years. I found matching colors very difficult in non-natural light, and doing it by candle-light would have been near impossible. And, although I am not personally Orthodox Christian, I found new respect for the reverence with which icons are held. I have since framed this work behind UV-proof glass, and it is displayed in my home as a small window into Russian sacred art and belief.

Bibliography
Gosudarstvennye muzei Moskovskogo Kremlia. Treasures from the Kremlin: An exhibition from the State Museums of the Moscow Kremlin at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, May 19-September 2, 1979, and the Grand Palais, Paris, October 12, 1979-January 7, 1980. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1979. pp. 110-123, 195-203.
•Johnstone, Pauline. The Byzantine Tradition in Church Embroidery. London: Alec Tiranti, Ltd., 1967.
•Lazarev, Viktor Nikitich. The Russian Icon: From Its Origins to the Sixteenth Century. Trans. C. J. Dees. Collegeville, Minnesota: The Order of St. Benedict, Inc., 1996.
•Lemon, Jane. Metal Thread Embroidery: Tools, Materials, and Techniques. London: B.T. Batsford, Ltd., 2002.
•Lowden, John. Early Christian & Byzantine Art. London: Phaidon Press, Ltd., 1997.
•Maiasova, N. A. Drevnerusskoe shit’e. Moscow: Isskustvo, 1971.
•Manushina, Tat’iana Nikolaevna. Khudozhestvennoe shit’e drevnei rusi v sobranii Zagorskogo muzeia. Moscow: Sovetskaia Rossiia, 1983.
•Martin, Linette. Sacred Doorways: A Beginner’s Guide to Icons. Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2002.


The Rings of Heaven

By Mordak Timofeyvich Rostovskogo

Moskva’s Wooden City
In the Middle Ages scholars answered the question, “why should I be the best Christian possible if the worst passable Christian who gets into Heaven stands besides the saints anyway?” So was born the concept of the rings of heaven followed by the rings of hell. In the eastern realms a much different tradition created a stratified system of social stratum like the West, but additionally separated by multiple walls of stone. Such was the case in medieval Moscow, that I phonetically named Moskva.

Until the second half of the fourteenth century, Moskva was much like most other growing Rus cities in that the only stone walls were those of the central Keep, the Kremlin, and those of assorted churches. The rest, walls, houses, gates, cordarouy roads and walkways were built entirely of wood, well seasoned wood extremely prone to accidental or deliberate fire that often engulfed whole sections of a city, if not all of it. To reduce the risk of this kind of catastrophe, cities were often ringed with a series of walls, between which grew neighborhoods that often were progressively shoddier the further from the Kremlin one wandered. Additionally, roofs were often wooden, sometimes covered with slate on wealthier houses and sod on poorer houses, both of which added to the insulation values in summer and winter. These modifications also significantly reduced the chance of stray cooking or heating sparks from landing on a wooden roof and starting a fire. Still, the poor living in the sprawl outside the walls suffered fires as a daily occurrence. Most of these were small and easily contained, but periodically whole sections of this area would burn, to be quickly re-built from the pre-cut house sctions from the wood market.

It’s into this scenario that we enter medieval Moskva, in this case at the end of the fifteenth century…what would you see? As you approached you would see a seemingly endless sprawl of log houses along narrow, winding streets. In winter these streets were slushy and muddy, in summer muddy or dusty. The gradual slope upwards the city walls showed roofs of thatch, wood, sod and occasionally, slate shingle. Along the distant wall every two to three hundred paces a squat, massive square or round tower would be placed on the walls, roofed in shingled wood with slits for archers. All around would be densely packed streets full of houses, people, livestock, petty street merchants selling everything from pirougies filled with mystery meat to trinkets to woven shoes to clothes with various stages of wear.

Depending on the section you were standing in you could smell the sharp stink of tanneries, hear the sounds of animals being driven to slaughter, hear the stacotto ring of blacksmiths or see bath houses, easily identifiable by the steam rising from windows, doorways and the bodies of patrons standing outside, mere paces from the flow of foot traffic, casually talking and pouring buckets of well water over themselves or each other. You would also see taverns, called korchimas in the local tongue and also easily identifiable by the prone bodies of passed out patrons laying were they had landed upon being thrown out when funds or consciousness were finally exhausted. Over all would be a low roar of a thousand voices speaking at once, like the rumbling of a cat’s purr only a thousand times louder. Crowding the streets would be a haphazard collection of humanity representing all aspects of the lowest social strata from beggers of crazy eyed “Holly Fools”, day laborers, coach drivers, petty merchants and artisans, housewives with children running around wildly in the streets and narrow spaces between the houses, even hard eyed and predatory criminals, prostitutes, thieves and street orphans.

Whether slushy and muddy or dry and dusty, the roads would be loud with wagons bouncing over the corderouyed log roadway, the edges an open sewer with a noisome mixture of nightsoil, ancient mud and other bits of matter long ago pounded into the mess and totally unidentifiable now. The quality of construction would be as varied as the owners resources and only as new as the last great blaze, maybe five to seven years ago now, so most of the wood is a dingy grey and very well seasoned, with the occassional yellow patch of new wood from necessary repairs. The sound of bells, great and small, near and distant would often sound in the city, for every church has one, no matter how small and insignificant. When asked, the people will readily say that the bells are the soul of the city and sing to its citizens daily.

This sea of buildings and humanity stops 100 paces from the next wall. It’s here that most children play and adults congregate to talk or protest or hear announcement or race horses. Minstrels, called skorimokhi, would ape, and tease and mimic the worse qualities of their fellow man, with particular cruelty towards the nobility, for the delight of the crowd and their coins. This was also the area for bear baiting, including cock, dog, and horse fighting. Along with the juggling and magic shows a carnival atmosphere would invade this ground. On normal days for a fee one can graze animals or have meetings or debates or watch debtors feet beaten by the town guards until a relative can pay their debts. This is the open ground that doubles as both a fire break and a killing ground for attackers of the next wall.

Tall wooden fences radiate out from this wall like the spokes on a wheel, the sections separated by gateways that are open during daylight but closed and guarded at night by the town guards. These are the men that keep a lid on trouble and keep the lower classes in line for their betters, though they themselves are of these same classes. Bands of these guards rove the pitch black neighborhoods at night, questioning all travelers and rousting drunks, occasionally catching a thief or brigand but mostly out to liven up their nightly tedium. By day they are day laborers, bath house attendants, carriage drivers and minor peddlers. With the night they become something else, clothed in the legitimacy and anonymous in the power of a group with little supervision they become more, or less, dependant on your social status. Justice is also swift and basic. After a sudden apprehension you find yourself in front of a guard gate being question by a member of the gentry, a deti-bioarin, who decides if you go on your way, pay an immediate fine or are turned over to the courts with the new day. Many westerners comment on the severity of the punishments but nothing else, for these methods are familiar to them in their own realms. This is the Wooden City.

The White City
As you cross the open ground and near the walls, the gleaming white at a distance becomes a patchwork of white, grey and rusty red smudges from repairs, water staining from rains and snow melt or the redbrick beneath the cracked, outer layer of clay. The guards also check all wagons and prevent the ragged masses from entering, aside from servants and laborers who have permission to enter. This is the White City, so named for the massive walls and home to the successful, the well born and the officials of the court and the chanceries. This area still has its pungent smells and share of filth, but the streets are wider, the homes grander, the artistry of the building s rich in stone, carved wood and other signs of affluence.

The people are not dressed in a motley collection of grey wool but often with finer quality wool, fur and decorative fabric in a variety of colors. There are a few merchants, but mostly taverns and restaurants. the prosperity of the merchants is on display here, especially by their wives. Whitened faces and kohled eyes peer out under raven colored eyebrows and impossibly red lips, their faces framed by large earrings and pearl netting across foreheads covered in decorative shawls. Their men plump of belly with wide, full beards showing their prosperity, but short, shorn hair. They ride by, haughty with a fist on a hip and servants trailing behind at a run trying to keep pace with their employer, tough they will also travel by carriage or sleigh, padded by costly rugs and fabric.

Despite the haughty attitude of the inhabitants, the White City offers several advantages over the Wooden City. The area is smaller, but so is the population. There are plank walkways above the mud and the stick is not quite so wretched, but remained odoriferous, though not as bad as Western cities or their inhabitants. There are fewer public steam baths because many have a private “bannia,” so a slight smell of herbed steam is in the air. Some areas have many courtyards, fenced and gated with a guard, so the streets are quieter, usually. Other areas have log houses, noticeably larger than the Wooden City. Many here display decorative carving and painting at windows, doorway and along roofed stairs leading to the second floor entrance common in this land. Nearly all the churches are stone, with tiled roofs and beautiful mural relief’s painted inside.

The family usually lives in the floors above while the ground floor acts as a secure warehouse, pantry and sometimes, carriage house. The floors above are often hung with decorative cloth and rugs, and like the poorer folk in the Wooden City, the rooms are lined with wide benches built in along every wall and the Corner facing the door contains the beautiful corner, the krasny ugol, where the Holy icons are kept that protect the house and all those within it. In the White City these benches are usually plushly equipped with a variety of pillows for the comfort of family and guests. The main floor usually have two large rooms split by an unheated hallway, one side for entertaining, the other for everyday living. Both have large clay faced brick ovens with a sleeping shelf on each, one for guests, the other for the elderly, the sick or children. Overhead are sleeping rooms for the family in the warmest part of the house. One side for adults, the other for children, the servants sleep on the benches in the family side of the house. The windows are very small, the wealthy have transparent sheets of mica, everyone else have oiled parchment, all have thick drapes to prevent drafts in winter.

A feeling of prosperity and drive lives here, but not a sense of permanence. People rise and fall here, sometimes as decreed by fate, other times by man or circumstances. Living side by side are merchants increasing their influence as they create their fortunes and fringe members of the nobility losing theirs as their fortunes decrease. Beside them are members of the chanceries keeping space and influence by their connections with others in government and bribes. The guards here are better spoken, and much more guarded in their actions and treatment of the inhabitants as a result. This is the White City.

Moskva’s Kataigorod
One of the oldest sections of the medieval city of Moscow is Kataigorod. Situated just outside the walls of the Kremlin of Moskva, this area is the flat plan just under Borovitsky (“Wooded”) Hill on which the Kremlin had been built, between the Moskva and Neglinmaya Rivers. Kataigorod started as a village of huts and merchant markets just outside the fort or gorod walls. Named for the earth filled woven baskets, or katai that were the first defensive walls of this area, it remained a large, upscale neighborhood and marketplace for the wealthy elite in later centuries, as well as the residences of foreign ambassadors to the Moscovy court and the highest members and intimates of the Grand Princes, and later, the Tsars.

If you were to be standing on the defensive walls of Kataigorod looking towards the Kremlin walls you would see two distinct areas between the kremlin and your post. Nearest would be a multitude of stone or brick Boiar nobles and wealthy merchants mansions, a particularly crowded permanent market area, as well as many stone churches. Under the defensive walls of the Kremlin itself, spread the vast and famous Red Square, intentionally left undeveloped as a huge defensive zone and large enough for an entire army to encamp or practice in large scale maneuvers, but also doubling as a huge town market area in times of peace to supplement the many smaller markets throughout Moskva. Along the east wall were stored the Grand Princes cannon, in mute testimony of the Grand Prince’s wealth and power.

On market days in Red Square, a visitor could find many large and thriving markets separated by wide makeshift avenues between rows of merchant tables and temporary booths. You could find a produce market, butchers market, rag market, examples of modular housing from the Wood Market in the Wooden City, a leatherworkers and metalworkers market and a livestock market with adjoining horse market. If you needed a cut and a shave you could get that at the Hair market, and a brief dalliance with a prostitute right next door if your purse needed a shave as well.

At the western end, very near where Ivan the Terrible would someday build the St. Basil’s Cathedral that now symbolizes Russia, sat a very small but very important tower. From the platform called the Lebnoe Mesto, the Grand Prince, and later the Tsars, would make announcements to the people. Other times, executions and public torture of traitors before execution would also take place, often on market days. It was here also that lesser public punishments would occur, such as the beating of debtors to encourage concerned relatives and friends to pay their debt in the old Ta’tar tradition. Still others who had been placed in stocks as punishment would beg piteously for food, as they did during the week in the Kataigorod market. And begging for food is as humbling as being immobilized in stocks for public scrutiny is to an individual. In this realm, prisoners were not fed during their incarceration by the officials, only guarded. This was punishment, comfort only defeated its purpose to discourage illegal behavior.

During the week and on non-market days, Kataigorod normally bustled with the foot traffic of the well to do and influential. Elegantly dress nobles and their wives, children or servants mixed freely with government officials, the Okolnichii, and court nobles, the Dvoriane. Dressed to impress, many would be clothed in imported brocades and hideously expensive silks from Persia, trimmed in cloth of gold and sable, beaver and black fox. Large taverns and the occasional poorhouse / morgue testified to the generosity of the Orthodox Church and the many Boiar nobles and wealthy merchants resident in this exclusive area. This also suited the Grand Prince’s objectives of reminding the rich and powerful that death, poverty and punishment could be visited upon anyone as fate, and the Grand Prince, “the First among Equals” decreed worthy. Not that this stopped or even slowed down those for whom family and marriage ties equated to social stability and personal security.

Sundays were for services several hours long, while standing, in one of the many glittering jewel-like churches of Kataigorod. As in the White City and the Wooden City, these were times to very quietly socialize, eye perspective marriage partners and broker deals mercantile, social and political. Men occupied one side of church and women the other, with the highest born women behind a screen called the Terem, in Mongol/Ta’tar fashion. Later, friends, neighbors, relatives, associates would gather for feasting, if not one of the 12 official fasts decreed by the Orthodox faith, and socialize through many courses and much spirits. After a mid-afternoon nap, the guests might return home or stay for music and entertainment, or socializing and business or politicking. Welcome to Kataigorod!


Restaurant Review

Olde Hansa, Vana Turg, 10140 Tallinn Estonia. Ph. 627 9020; Fax 627 9021; reserve@oldehansa.ee http://www.oldehansa.ee. Hours: 11-Midnight everyday.

A bit off the beaten path, but should you ever make a wrong turn on the Crusades and find yourself in Tallinn, and you need to wet your whistle after a hard day of pillaging for amber, I highly recommend the experience of dining at Olde Hansa, a medieval restaurant situated in the heart of the Old Town of Tallinn. I’ve heard of this place for years, and seeing it was the primary reason for coming to Tallinn, but I really was not quite prepared for what awaited me. Let’s say that this is the project that most of us claim we’d undertake if we’d just hit Powerball.

Olde Hansa is a restaurant housed in an actual 15th century building, which has been largely retrofitted to look like it did in the past (with modern conveniences carefully hidden away – for example, a computer/cash register is built into a medieval-looking lectern). The lighting is from candles (with some indirect electrics hidden carefully in the sides). The walls are bare wood with lovely paintings. The tables are wooden. The plates made from hand thrown pottery, the glasses hand blown, the carefully-trained servers are dressed in authentic looking clothing, and the dishes are documented to period. The entertainment is from live musicians and the ambience loud and boisterous and fun. Even the toilets have been designed to look like period ones (albeit with totally modern plumbing!).

Adding to the atmosphere, the physical layout is chaotic and varied. On the ground floor is the main restaurant and bar. And through a passageway, there is a store that sells the plates, glasses, and serving ware used at the restaurant, as well as garb, shoes, spices, and all sorts of other fun items. Upstairs is a private dining room (where we dined that evening) and on the third floor, another great hall (which I didn’t get to see as it was closed). Outside, a permanent pavilion is set up for dining and live performances.

The dining room provides an amazing total immersion experience. The food was wonderful (especially a beef dish in a cream sauce) but it was the ambience that really made it magical. The private feast I attended was held to honor a group of high school students who had just “graduated” from the medieval studies program sponsored by the restaurant. Some of them had studied music, some martial arts, and some other arts and sciences. All of them had made garb and developed personas. And they put on a play to showcase their performance talents.

I regretted not getting to try out the cinnamon beer (at the feast, they served only spiced wine), but overall it was a fantastic experience. Certainly the most unique part of my trip and truly something memorable. Unfortunately, we had to leave early before dessert was served, but we did get to see it – a wonderful subtlety. I would certainly like to return some day to Olde Hansa!

– Paul Wickenden of Thanet

 


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