Jousting and heraldry at the Rotunda this Saturday


Penn's chapter of the Society for Creative Anachronism will host the event


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The Renaissance Arts Day will take place at the Rotunda on Saturday from 1 to 6:30 p.m.

Photo by Thomas Jansen


If you happen to see a sword fight outside the Rotunda this weekend, don’t be alarmed.

The Society for Creative Anachronism — an international organization dedicated to studying and recreating the arts and culture of the European Middle Ages and Renaissance — will be hosting a showcase at Penn this Sunday.

The Renaissance Arts Day, a free event, will be held at the Rotunda on 40th and Walnut streets from 1 to 6:30 p.m., featuring demonstrations of period crafts, performances and a bake sale with medieval recipes.

The Arts Day will be held in the Rotunda’s spacious front room, which is known as the Sanctuary, lending a fittingly medieval tone to the event. SCA members will be wearing mostly handcrafted, period-based clothing, while live musicians will be playing authentic historical instruments.

In addition to the combat demonstration out front, there will be demonstrations and workshops of various medieval crafts inside, including tablet weaving, embroidery, heraldry, printmaking and even a table about astrology in the Middle Ages. A local “commedia dell’arte” troupe — based on a style of improvisational theater dating back to pre-17th century Italy — will perform at the demo, and from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., the back space of the Rotunda will be transformed into a Renaissance ball.

The Society for Creative Anachronism was founded by a group of history and fantasy enthusiasts in 1966 in Berkeley, California, and spans multiple countries across the globe today.

Rachael Schechter, an employee at Van Pelt Library and one of the Renaissance Arts Day’s main organizers, discussed how despite studying history and archaeology extensively in college, she realized that she had little working knowledge of many facets of ordinary life in the periods she studied. The SCA’s approach to recreating history — by making its own historical clothing, for example — opened up questions that she would have never thought to ask otherwise.

“And so by giving you more questions to ask, this sort of recreation of history gives you new ways to look at the past,” Schechter said in an email.

The SCA has a long history on campus. The organization’s Penn chapter was founded in the 1970s, and according to Schechter, the early PennSCA boasted about 50 members who would meet twice a week in Houston Hall.

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Today, the group is smaller, numbering around a dozen current Penn undergraduate and graduate students, along with several alumni, according to Jackie Binstead, another main organizer of the Arts Day who got involved in PennSCA while studying at the Fels Institute of Government.

PennSCA remains active in hosting events and holding regular business meetings. The events — some run by the organization on campus, others by the larger subsets of the SCA in the area — range from Renaissance and medieval combat tournaments and historical dancing balls to calligraphy classes and cooking workshops.

“I’ve found participating in the Society for Creative Anachronism a wonderful way to make friends and to learn about the arts, activities and cultures of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance,” Binstead said in an email.

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