Thursday, June 09, 2011

Jousting 2011 at Shenandoah Valley's Natural Chimneys

Jousting ... the sport of kings, Middle Ages, Knights, and Camelot ... returns to northwestern Augusta County the weekend of June 25-26, 2011, as it has every year since 1821.

Held at the Natural Chimneys Park, location of the National Jousting Hall of Fame, it is a Medieval weekend in the Shenandoah Valley with a magical feel ... knights and damsels and horses with names like "King Arthur" and "Sir Knight." The modern day jousters are a society of like-minded folks who know one another and look forward to the good-natured sport that has been tamed to allow both parties to live to joust another day. They now spear rings hanging from wooden posts instead of each other.

The history of jousting is interesting, and the way it started in Augusta County is even more interesting. According to the Natural Chimneys website:
In addition to the Natural Chimneys Joust, the National Jousting Hall Of Fame Joust is held each year at Natural Chimneys Regional Park each June.

Jousting -Older than the Kentucky Derby, older than baseball--born in the Middle Ages and nursed by chivalry--that's the story of jousting, a test of horsemanship, balance and marksmanship. To the command, "Charge, Sir Knight!", renewal of America's oldest consecutively run sporting event takes place the 3rd Saturday in August each year at Natural Chimneys, Mt. Solon, Virginia, in a revival of medieval pageantry.

Originally a game in which death frequently claimed the loser, jousting has lost none of its flavor in its modern form, where knights in bright garb send their pointed lances through steel rings instead of through the breast plates of mail-clad foemen.

Begun in 1821 to settle which of two local men should have a certain damsel for his wife, the Mt. Solon Tournament has been run each year on the third Saturday in August before crowds numbering in the thousands. Using lances, some of them a hundred years old, riders from Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and, of course, Virginia test their skill at plucking three steel rings from crossbars while riding their chargers down a ninety-yard course in not more than eight seconds.

Jousting's birth is credited to a certain Frenchman, Geoffroi de Pruelli, who died in the same year that William the Conqueror defeated Harold at Hastings (1066) and became the first Norman King of England. Some authorities, however, doubt that any one man "invented" the sport; but the consensus is that it did originate in France in the 11th Century. From France the sport spread to Germany, thence England and Southern Europe. In 1821 it came to the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia in its modified, humane form.

The glitter of state pageantry in the Middle Ages contributed to the popularity of this savage contest, which was so abhorred by the Church that it forbade Christian burial to those killed in jousting. Henry II of England, fearing mass assemblages of knights who came to vie for honors and for a smile from some "Ladye Fayre", refused to allow the sport to continue in England during his late 12th Century reign. But his son, Richard I, lifted the ban and licensed tournaments, exacting heavy royal fees for the privilege. Another English King, Edward I, once took 80 of his best nobles across the Channel for a meet on the continent; by the mid-13th century the Church had relaxed its frown.

Knighthood, chivalry and pageantry went out of jousting when the Renaissance opened up a new way of life; and the death of King Henry II of France from injuries received during a tournament in 1599 sounded the death knell of the sport.

In England itself, jousting languished until 1839, when lords and ladies of the realm gathered in Eglinton, Ayreshire, for a gala mock tournament, replete with the trappings of old. That was eighteen years after the first American tournament was held at Mt. Solon, Virginia. The English did not continue the modified sport but revived it in 1878 in the Royal Navy and Military Tournament, which was terminated during World War II.

The sport is popular in a few other localities in the Eastern United States, especially Maryland, but no meet is as large, as long-running nor as rich in tradition as the Mt. Solon event. The backdrop of the Natural Chimneys, one of the great natural wonders of Virginia; the sparkling greensward; the hurrahs of the crowd, all temporarily returned to days when knighthood was in flower, together make the occasion unique in the annals of American sport ok.
If you go, take a lawn chair, a sweater (sometimes it's cool), and plan to tailgate with a picnic. And don't forget your camera. There is a slight charge to get into Natural Chimneys Park but it's not much (I think it's $6 per car this year), and the sight of so many jousters is well worth the experience. Enjoy!

Washington Examiner: 'Charge, Sir Knight!' ... jousting this weekend in Shenandoah Valley
Previous post: Autumn in Shenandoah Valley: Natural Chimneys

Photo by Lynn R. Mitchell

No comments: