For the Love of Living History: Times, Epochs and Saint George’s Tournament in Moscow

Helen Borodina

Tunnels of Time open In Moscow for the ‘International Times and Epochs Festival’ from 9 to 17 June, featuring the popular international XV century Tournament of Saint George in Kolomensky park from 12 June to 16 June

It’s Wednesday morning, and life in the region of Belorussky railway station in central Moscow buzzes in its usual manner – cars, passers-by, shops selling smartphones and everything technical. 

Cafes. Fresh from the train, I sit in one of them, having a coffee. Typing away on my laptop. A man dressed in XIV century (or so) European clothes walks in and gets some food to go. Then, more show up for a quick snack.

You would think a period film set is somewhere around the corner – and you wouldn’t be too wrong.

On Saturday, the time tunnels opened again, like they do every year, for the Time and Epochs history and re-enactment festival founded and held by the Ratobortsy historical events agency. This is one of the biggest and most significant in the world re-enactment festival among its kind, that fills Moscow’s popular locations with people dressed in clothes from this or that time and culture, tents with historical thing on display, armour, horses, memorable merchandise, historical theatre and music shows, lectures, workshops – and much more.

This time, 2000 participants from 15 countries present various epochs and traditions in Moscow’s central locations and parks. 

One definite highlight is the famous XV century Tournament of Saint George that is incorporated into the Times and Epochs programme for the first time this year, which, as custom has it, is taking place in Moscow’s Kolomensky Park.

The Tournament will last 5 days, featuring traditional late XV century sports that noble knights played, with lords and ladies of high standing, gentry and all sort of folk attending to watch, a medieval market, shows by the medieval theatre ‘Mysterion’, music by TeuffelTanz, projects representing re-enactment and recreation costumes and lifestyles of Florence, Burgundy, England and other countries, and – all things medieval… 

The Tournament of Saint George is my absolute pick. This will be the first year when I can attend most of the event, and I am determined to make the most of it.

I even made a gamurre– an Italian gown – as a first step in trying my hand at one of re-enactments most beautiful activities; the creation of clothes, accessories, equestrian equipment and other objects used in this or that place at a certain time in history. To recreate historical looks and objects, re-enactors study paintings and scientific material for accuracy and inspiration. Mine is just a try, a humble study that I undertook to crack-open the door into that charming, beckoning past. I attempted to walk through the steps a re-enactor would take before he or she is able to parade a marvellous costume at a distinguished event – and I found the process definitely captivating, rewarding, costly, and taking quite a lot of time – but definitely worth its while.

Events like the Tournament of Saint George are important landmarks for those who ride in jousting contests, present their court, city, village or market projects, or art.

“This means nothing without the cultural aspect,” Elizaveta Rylova, a re-enactor of Burgundy and founder of the Mysterion medieval theatre told me as I talked to her days before the Festival. “This year, our show will be about virtues valued in the medieval society.”

Having seen last year’s show by “Mysterion,” I know that this year’s show is bound to be a treat. 

One of the prominent re-enactors in Russia, Elizaveta has travelled to France, Denmark and Germany to present her projects together with the Saint Thomas’ guild she belongs to.

Like many re-enactors, she rides horses and masters some of the historical riding arts, winning in the female tournament at TSG 2018.

All contests, games and performances are watched by the Ladies’ Court created by a leading re-enactor Marina Savchenko. Her husband, Dmitry Savchenko, one of the Tournament’s founders, is among the best-known Russian knights. He participates in, and has won, quite a number of tournaments at home and internationally.

The food at Saint George’s – especially if you’re lucky enough to be part of the reenactors’ camp – is all period-accurate. This gastronomic authenticity is provided by re-enactor, medieval cuisine expert Julia Davidovskaya and crew. Sergey Vislenev, Julia’s husband, is the Tournament’s Marshall.

An addition to Saint George’s scene that I am particularly happy about is the Florentine Court based on a pioneering Italian re-enactment club created by Svetlana Sokolova, yet another remarkable woman in Russia’s historical enthusiast scene, who patiently consulted me when I had questions on my gamurre project. Her approach to making historical clothing for herself and others is a combination of taste, knowledge, love of precision, and the ability to work with diligence and love for what she does.

Some of the Tournament’s key participants are wearing outfits tailored and made by Svetlana.

A five-day tournament means that there will be a lot to see. Twelve riders will compete on horseback and on land, in jousting and skills at arms. Namely, last year’s winner Andrey Kamin from Saint-Petersburg, Mark Hamel from Quebec, Canada who has come to TSG for a second time in a row, stuntman Thomas Menou from Brest, France, who has participated in tournaments in France, Belgium and Russia (Saint-Petersbourg), Dominic Sewell from Bernard Castle, England, who also participated in TSG last year, Alain Minoux of the Order of Saint Michael, from Saint-Paul le Gothier, France, Andrew MacKinnon from Sydney, Australia, Dmitry Svetnitsky and Pavel Kalinkov from Belarus, Dmitry Savchenko, Yuri Bogunov and Victor Ruchkin from Moscow, Russia, and Alexey Malinin from Saint Petersburg, Russia. 

As I think of how I should close, a friend texts me to say that the Tournament scene is so crowded that trying to see the tiltyard is almost hopeless. Good I don’t have my voluminous gamurre dress today – best I explore the grounds in modern attire first!

With these thoughts, I leave the cafe at Belorusskaya to ride the metro to Kolomenskaya, where I do hope that I will get close to the scene enough to snap some quality pictures, and say hello to the re-enactors I know.

Image may contain: one or more people, people riding on horses, sky, outdoor and nature

And, of course, I recommend that you check it out too and see everything I tried to describe in words here as it is in real life. Oh, and did I mention the historical picnic?

Anyway, it’s all here: it’s in Russian, if you are interested, but have trouble reading this, feel free to contact me about the Tournament’s program and everything related).