This year’s Medieval Week on the island of Gotland was a reduced affair, and disappointing in a number of ways.
Because of Covid, last year was digital only. No meeting up with folks on Gotland, no people dressing up in Medieval costume, no jousting tournaments or battle re-enactments. One lone advantage was that the ambitious schedule of lectures was maintained, online. You had to pay a fee for the lectures, but you would have had to do that anyway for the physical events.
This year Medieval Week was back, but with some significant changes. The various event sites were roped off as “Medieval islands” and you had to have a pass to enter. The idea was a good one with Covid still around, but essentially this meant you had to pay for things that used to be free, like to visit the Medieval Market, which is one of the highpoints of the week. And you had to pay twice over for things that used to, and still had, a ticket price. The system was also a bit disorganized, since even if you bought a day ticket ahead of time, at least on the first day, you had to stand in the same line as the people who hadn’t bought tickets, to get the paper wristband that was the real ticket.
The lectures are one of my favorite parts of Medieval Week, and usually run from topics about Medieval History to how to make realistic swords. In a normal year there are at least a dozen talks every day. This year there were only eleven lectures altogether. And sadly, while early program descriptions indicated there would be a digital portal for those unable to attend physically, that never happened.
The event did have an online channel, accessible only if you had paid for a day pass, but the lectures did not figure. However, to their credit, the opening ceremony, in most years held on top of a medieval tower after a parade through the streets of Visby, was available before the pay wall went into effect.
Mythos Instead of the Traditional Jousting Tournament
The highlights for many people are the jousting tournaments, featuring the local society of knights, Torneamentum. But this year there was apparently a new organizer for Medieval Week and they replaced these beloved period-accurate events with “Mythos”, basically a circus with acrobats, but against a confused story about the invading Danish king receiving the island’s treasures, on the condition he marry a local woman against her will(!). When she ran off with her boyfriend and the treasures, the demi-goddess who was the rightful owner of the treasures was sentenced to be executed. For a handful of the performances some jousting and archery was inserted at this point, and the whole thing concluded with the unexplained appearance of a fire dragon.
The music by Garmarna was very entertaining, the acrobats were impressive, the jousting was too short, and the whole thing was both over-priced and confusing.
Hopefully, next year’s Medieval Week will be able to return to its more traditional forms, but in an interview with the newspaper “Gotlands Tidningar” CEO Christopher Sandberg said the day fees to attend previously free activities will “probably be made permanent in some form” next year. If they need passes to control numbers, I would suggest limiting the number, but making them free of charge. Otherwise just get rid of them. We’re probably going to be stuck with Mythos in the future (although I have heard that at least some members of the knights’ organization are not pleased). After Covid, there shouldn’t be any reason for a reduced number of lectures and other activities, so hopefully these will be restored, along with the traditional re-enactment of the Battle of Visby, as well as the opening and closing parades and ceremonies.
All that said, it was still great to be able to attend a physical Medieval Week. The market, the people in costumes, the handful of events (like story-telling for the children), were nice to experience again.