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Lynchburg-area society keeps world of pre-17th century Europe alive

Local society keeps the world of pre-17th century Europe alive

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  • SCA 1

    Allen Foster (left) spars with John Williams (right) using a mix of blade fighting techniques during an SCA practice night in Madison Heights, Va., December 16, 2013. (Photo by Parker Michels-Boyce/The News & Advance)

Posted: Sunday, February 2, 2014 3:00 am

The seemingly endless to-do list neatly etched out in blue marker and posted on Allen and Julie Foster's kitchen wall has been div-vied up into a few key categories: house, yard and barony.

"It's a crazy list," said Julie, or Baroness Juliana, as she is also known.

It's Monday night, and the denizens of the Barony of Black Diamond are holding court at the Fosters' home in Madison Heights.

In the kitchen, artisans labor over richly hued flourishes of calligraphy. Out in the barn, knights brave the punishing winter temperatures to test their mettle in battle.

The group, which has about 25 local members, is an outpost of the Society for Creative Anachronism — an international living history group dedicated to studying and painstakingly recreating the world of pre-17th Century Europe.

"It's another form of historical study," said Allen, or Baron Aldemere. "Most of us have a common interest in something about history. But instead of sitting in lectures and reading books, we say, let's try it. Let's wear what they wore and camp like they did and learn about it that way."

"It's a weird hobby," he said with a grin. "I freely admit that."

The Society for Creative Anachronism was started in 1966, and now has more than 30,000 members worldwide. The players come from all walks of life and have found their own niche among the panoply of arts, warfare and craftsmanship offered.

"I showed up at my first event, and my mind was blown," said Seanne Weekes, who joined Black Diamond shortly after graduating college about a year ago.

"I spent three days dressed in garb and riding horses and having a blast," she said. "I decided then and there that there was no way I was going to stop, because it was way too much fun."

Events can range from the small weekly gatherings at the Fosters' house to annual festivals that attract more than 10,000 people.

Julie Foster, who along with her husband is responsible for leading the local barony, said it was the pageantry of those sweeping events that made her fall in love with SCA.

"I mean, how often do you get to walk through a city of tents at night as the lantern lights dance and the fog starts to drift in?" she said. "Most people can only dream of that."

The weekly gatherings of the Black Diamond chapter are rambling affairs where sparring sessions, music practice and animated discussions about the evolution of wood craftsmanship can all occur at once.

In the basement, a new member is being taught how to piece together his first suit of armor. The armor, on the outside, will be authentic in appearance to that worn during the Middle Ages or Renaissance. On the inside, however, it will be couched with protective padding to meet safety standards.

The swords, likewise, are made out of a heavy wood rather than more lethal steel.

The chance to thrash it out in competition is a draw for many SCA participants — but the fighters are quick to point out they're not just "stick jocks."

"This is its own form of martial arts," said David Lang, who's been in SCA for more than 20 years.

"There is a philosophy behind it that is just as important as the skills. This is my little speech about chivalry, because a lot of what we practice is about chivalry and respect."

Honor, loyalty and generosity permeate the traditions of SCA.

Joseph Jackson, one of the chapter's youngest members at age 18, said he was first drawn in by the UFC-style energy of the sometimes bruising sparring matches.

"I came into this just thinking it would be fun to wear some armor and fight," he said. "But I've gained a lot of respect for it. It's an art."

"Honestly, I just love the people here," he said. "You meet some of the most awesome, crazy people."

The entire Barony of Black Diamond, which stretches from here to West Virginia, has around 100 members currently.

Julie and Allen Foster spend most every weekend on the road to support their subjects by attending events or helping out with projects.

"You get to be a part of this incredible group of people who believe in the same ideals of courtesy and chivalry, and who like making things with their own hands for the joy of it," Julie Foster said.

"It's hard to put into words. It's a very special group of people."

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