Slaying Dragons and Other Knightly Rigors

In a courtly culmination to the January Term class "To be a knight," six students were dubbed knights by Associate Professor Costanza Dopfel on Jan. 27 after they met her challenge of fasting for 24 hours and kneeling in meditation for an hour on the marble floor of the College Chapel.

"Rise a knight!" Dopfel proclaimed to the kneeling men after she dubbed them with her sword three times, once on each shoulder and then on their heads. They stood as their classmates, garbed in medieval clothing, applauded, and then gathered with Dopfel for a group embrace.

The ceremony outside Dante Hall brought to life the course's exploration of the lives of young men and ladies in the Middle Ages. Among the issues covered were the business of tournaments, the trials of love, and the experience of the Crusades. Visiting speakers included a falconer and a knight re-enactor with two squires who told the students about medieval warfare before putting on a demonstration of sword fighting.

January Term is a creative feature of Saint Mary's College, encouraging students to step outside traditional courses and explore a variety of special offerings from theater workshops, the history of major league baseball, and Bob Dylan and the 1960s to travel courses and music and dance classes.

Paul Diaz, a 21-year-old junior who was among those knighted in Dopfel's class, said the hardest part of qualifying was kneeling on the Chapel floor for an hour.

"My knees fell asleep," he said. "I couldn't bend my legs for a while."

Most of the other knights agreed. Naveen Prasad, a 19-year-old sophomore who is Hindu, said he fasts often so going 24 hours without food was not difficult, but kneeling became painful after about 15 minutes.

The other men who were dubbed knights were junior Louis Linebarger, 21; sophomores Mike Fitzpatrick, 19; and Peter Janicki, 19, and freshman Andrew Granger, 19.

The class is popular among students, who experienced firsthand some of elements of medieval life. The most popular day may have been on Jan. 23, when Daniel Hunter, or Knight Radnor of Guildemar, visited the class along with his squires Baldenwyne ApRadnor and Owen Fletchyr. Hunter, who lives in Berkeley and is director of a high-tech company when he's not competing in tournaments and slaying dragons, has been a knight for 26 years in the West Kingdom of the Society for Creative Anachronism, which celebrates and re-enacts the Middle Ages.

Hunter and Fletchyr demonstrated sword fighting with a long steel sword in the classroom, showing students techniques to overpower an opponent. Then they headed to the lawn outside Dante Hall for a few mock sword fights done with rattan swords, which look like bamboo sticks wrapped in duct tape.

We do it just because we love it," said Hunter, who wore armor that included chain mail, articulated plates over his elbows, and leather coverings and steel legs with steel. He also wore a white tunic and a white belt that signifies knighthood, and put on a steel helmet when sword fighting.

Hunter told the students they couldn't engage in a real sword fight with the visiting experts because "there's too much of a learning curve." However, students were told if they could block a blow from Hunter's sword with a shield, they could take on a squire. Even though Hunter warned each exactly where on the helmet he would hit them, most of the dozen or so students who tried failed to keep his sword away.

Diaz blocked a blow, but said it was difficult because Hunter swung the sword so quickly. Later, Diaz and some other students took on the squires, who put down their swords and easily fended off the blows with their shields.

Sophomore Tasia Barrett, 20, said she was fascinated by the Middle Ages and enjoyed Dopfel's class.

"It's really interesting," she said. "You learn a lot about medieval life."

--Erin Hallissy
Office of College Communications