Abraham Mudrick, a member of St. Stephen Parish in Southeast Portland, stands guard outside the church during the parish’s Medieval Festival Aug. 4. (Sarah Wolf/Catholic Sentinel)
Abraham Mudrick, a member of St. Stephen Parish in Southeast Portland, stands guard outside the church during the parish’s Medieval Festival Aug. 4. (Sarah Wolf/Catholic Sentinel)
Abraham Mudrick, with a stern face, stands guard outside the entrance to St. Stephen Church in Southeast Portland during the parish’s Medieval Festival Aug. 4. Dressed like a Swiss Guard, he lets a smile slip as his young daughters play around him.

It’s the third festival held by the parish in honor of St. Stephen but the first one with a theme. The day included lunch and dinner. By midday, some 300 people had circulated through the festival.

While manning the door, Mudrick, a member of the parish, saw what he calls a remarkable trend. Children walked by and asked if they could go into the church. He always said yes.

“When they took a peek in the church, they came outside calling to their parents, ‘Mom and Dad, it’s beautiful. Come inside and see.’ And about half of the parents would come inside the church.”

The festival was meant to be welcoming to everyone, not just Catholics.

“In order to be able to bring people in, we want them to have the feeling that this is for them,” said Joseph Salazar, religious education coordinator at St. Stephen and organizer of the event.

Participating in one of the tours of the church, attendees could hear an elementary description of the building and the faith. Even a lifelong Catholic could pick up new wisdom, like the reason Catholics genuflect on their right knee — left knees are for royalty and the right knee is reserved for God.

Father Eric Andersen, pastor of St. Stephen, had been praying for good weather for the festival.

“St. Stephen really provided because last year was scorching but this year we have this wonderful breeze,” he says with a peaceful smile.

Taking on the planning of a medieval festival was a big challenge, but everything came together. Salazar and the other planners began talking about the festival as soon as he joined the effort in November.

“We use this as a way to be able to show people we’re still celebrating this community’s patron saint,” said Salazar. The organizers began researching parish festivals of old and found that the village festivals in Europe were centered around saint feast days.

“It’s been great to see the number of people in the community who have expressed interest and have said that they really feel welcomed now that we’re doing something,” he added.

“A festival is a celebration really of everything that God has created — the sacred and the secular as well,” said Father Andersen.

The feast day provides a chance for everyone in the community to share in the parish’s celebration, added the priest.

“Every year we get more and more people wandering in. This year especially, the festivity of the event has brought more people from the community in.”

Eujil Peralta is a member of St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Southwest Portland and a student at Portland State University. Dressed in her medieval garb with flowers atop her head, she said she enjoyed the festival.

She specially loved “the flower crowns because they make you feel like a princess.”

Sia Hoyt came to the festival for a few reasons, one of which was to sell her pottery. She has many friends who are members at St. Stephen, though she is a self-proclaimed multi-church parishioner from Vancouver. During a recent art exhibit where Hoyt was showcasing her work, she was invited to exhibit during the St. Stephen Medieval Festival.

“One of the things I love about this parish is it really supports the art within the church,” said Hoyt. “That’s really something I deeply, deeply value.”

Unlike other Renaissance festivals, there was an absence of medieval fantasy. There weren’t dragons or elves. But there were many secular activities like jousting, chess and miniature shipbuilding for kids. However, Salazar and the other planners also wanted to take the opportunity to showcase the medieval Catholic Church. There was a presentation on medieval saints, sacred music performances, a Latin Mass and vespers. The Latin liturgy celebrated at the start of the day dates back to the sixth century. The vespers service has been unchanged for hundreds of years, said Father Andersen.

“What we’re celebrating in the church is medieval but it’s also timeless,” he said.

sarahw@catholicsentinel.org