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Monday January 22, 2001

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Swinging their swords

Headline Photo

By Hillary Davis

Arizona Daily Wildcat

History re-enactment group brings medieval life to UA

A mild Tucson afternoon became a day of medieval European combat and ceremony yesterday when a merry band of history re-enactors staged scenes of battle on the UA campus.

Today mixed with yesteryear in the form of a half-full bottle of Gatorade laying beside a warrior's helmet, a woman weaving at a spinning wheel while a toddler in contemporary dress tottered by, and men engaged in battle wearing hand-made armor and Nike cleats.

Members of the Society for Creative Anachronism - which includes a Tucson group, the Barony of Tir Ysgithr, and a University of Arizona chapter, the College of St. Felix, among other societies - came to campus in costume and in character as fighters, artisans and royalty for the day-long event. Curious on-lookers also wandered about.

Curt Booth, events coordinator for the College of St. Felix and an administrative secretary for the UA electrical and computer engineering department, said about 200 fighters were at the demonstration on the Gittings Field lawn.

The fighters were training for next month's Estrella War in Queen Creek, Ariz., a battle exhibition and competition that pits SCA kingdoms from around the world against each other.

Yesterday's soldiers, who came from around the state to participate, represented warriors from the entire range of the medieval era. Booth said Norman knights, Byzantine fighters, and, although there was not one present yesterday, the occasional Samurai will join on one battlefield to practice.

"You've got pretty much an entire timeline out there," said Booth, also known as Lord Fergus de Botha, a minor lord of Scottish-French extraction.

Booth said the battling is safe - fighters wield lightweight bamboo sticks wrapped in duct tape - carefully taught, and ultimately just for fun. Everybody in the organization is close and treats each other with respect, Booth said.

"It's based in honesty, chivalry and treating people right because that's what you're supposed to do," he said. "You gotta be a little insane in here - it helps - but it's fun."

Booth said there are about 60,000 members of SCA worldwide, and that women as well as men participate in combat exercises. Rapier fighting - fencing - and hard-suit, or armored combat, allow members to recall the days of middle ages warfare.

Monique Lyon, who is a local juvenile defense attorney when she is not in the persona of Mistress Magdalene Venturosa, milled about the festivities donning a pelican medallion earned for her service devoted to the group.

"It's not just wearing the costume, it's getting involved with the sub-culture, so to speak," she said. "It's a club, however - it's not a cult, it's not a religion."

Sara Gauger, a UA biochemistry freshman, participates in rapier fighting, where she says there is a higher concentration of women, in part because of the strategy involved in the fighting form.

"It's a lot more finesse," said Gauger, who also goes by the name Perin the Sprightly. "And we (women) dress better."

Booth said his interest in the Renaissance period grew from a fondness for the simple respect and chivalry of everyday life.

"Things were simpler then - you had the plague, yeah. But other than that, people were trying to do right by each other," he said.

Lady Damaris St. Cloud, seneschal - the equivalent of president - for the Tucson group, agreed with Booth that the romanticism of the Renaissance period draws people to SCA.

"There is a certain magic to it, a dream as it were," said Lady Damaris, or Kim Schooley, a Tucson resident. "Chivalry is not dead, it's alive and well and you witness it wherever you are here."

The College of Felix meets today at 5:30 p.m. in room S324 of the Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering building. The Tucson chapter meets the second Sunday of the month at Himmel Park, 1000 N. Tucson Blvd.