Reenacting the Gates to Paradise

The following is a blog post that looks beyond the Company of St. George. It's a background article on a new exposition in Switzerland, that deals with living-history in museums and an attempt to involve the visitors actively in a reenactment project.

My name is Lea Schieback. I'm undergoing my recruitment period to become a full Company member. But in my private live, I do Reenactment for a living already - or at least sort of. I work for the Museum of Aargau, a growing collection of museums under the same institutional head. Maybe you already know one of our museums, the castle of Lenzburg, where the Company met in 2009. I had the pleasure to co-organize that event.

But this blog post is about my professional life. I had to look up the translation for my job title on I am a museum education officer (does not that sound cheesy?). During wintertime, I develop guided tours and workshops for school kids and teenagers. During the Summer, I try to make a practical use of this theory and conceptual-work.

Outside of my work in Lenzburg, I started a project in the monastery of Königsfelden (where only the church survived the centuries). The monastery was founded in 1309 - a few months after a murder had taken place on site: King Albrecht I. of Habsburg was murdered by his nephew Johann von Schwaben. For memorial, religious and political purposes, Albrecht's Widow Elisabeth gave the money and the assignment to build a chapel and later, the monastery with its beautiful church. It was here, that Franciscans and the Sisters of St. Clare lived together in one of the rares Double-Monasteries.

So, Lea, thanks for the history-lesson: but who cares?

We do! The Museum of Aargau celebrated the 700 years aniversary of the foundation of the church and the monastery in June. Of course we also celebrated the fact that we were able to add Königsfelden to our collection of Museums... There are various events taking place now with the overall title "The Gates of Heaven". One of them might interest you from a reenactment perspective: the reconstruction of a workshop of the monastery's construction site: the temporary home for many craftsmen during the erection of a monument. Chisellers and Stone Cutters, Carpenters, Rope makers, Blacksmiths and Painters and many more all worked here. Archaeologist Dr. Christian Maise constructed the site workshop based on a various local sources as a key element of the anniversary.

A schoolclass in action at the construction site (Photo by Lea Schieback).

With this project, we aimed to make a connection between the past and our modern world. Therefore the site workshop is supposed to be used for families, children and school classes. In fact, there are 30 different handicraft tasks if you are not shy to get your hands dirty. You can try out stone masonry by trying to straighten the stone's surface (one of the first and hardest tasks a Chiseller has to learn) or you can create a plane angle, or you can work on a relief (like a Vierpass) or even a groove. There are small woodworking projects like drilling holes, making tenons and mortises, sawing a log or planing it afterwards. The tools are an assortment of the medieval and modern tools. The modern tools are a necessity as they are meant to be handled by beginners and we do not have to repair them every day. This compromise proofed a necessity very quickly.

Nonetheless you can have a great and exhausting time, trying to do just a few of the small projects which lasts from 15 minutes to several hours. We also have a scaffold, where you and your friends can try to lift a heavy stone and put it in certain position or you can try to 'just' build up a wall - which is surprisingly difficult if you want to erect a straight building.

Working on the crane (Photo by Lea Schieback).

Here the goal is to hit the frame on the ground with the help of sticks (Photo by Lea Schieback).

With every task, there is a box with your tools and a description what you have to do in order to get the job done. During the Summer holidays, there is an experienced craftsman on site who can give you a hand (or sometimes two).

After a week of practical experience with school classes at the site workshop, it seems to work very well. The projects are great fun and there is someting for beginners and experts alike. You should not let this opportunity pass you by.

More information can be found here on the museum's site:

By Lea Schieback, Recruit Company member.



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