Boar’s Head Festival Brings Medieval Pageantry To Harwich

By: William F. Galvin

Topics: Community events

A camel from R.W. Commerford and Sons Farm in Goshen, Conn. will be part of the cast in the Boar’s Head Festival. COURTESY PHOTO

HARWICH — A gathering for to mark the medieval holiday of Epiphany will be a first for the South Harwich Meetinghouse this weekend. The historic former Methodist Church has had many different experiences, but never a Boar’s Head Festival.

There will be festive pageantry, dance, song, music and animals taking the audience back to England in the 1400s to the medieval village of Harwich-on-Herring to experience Epiphany. The festival is being put on by the Friends of the South Harwich Meetinghouse with theatrical presentations on both Saturday and Sunday at 4 p.m.

“While traveling this colorful journey, we will celebrate life through music, dance, drama, amazing live animals and stunning pageantry. Our vivid themes will emphasize darkness and light and warmth and cold as we celebrate life and hope and peace,” Judith Ford, president of the Friends of the South Harwich Meetinghouse, said this week.

Ford said the Boar’s Head Festival tradition dates back to the 15th century in England and is presented throughout the world during the Epiphany. It traces our ancient medieval beginnings through the growth of Christianity. The tradition of live animals sharing in the Nativity story celebration was believed to have begun with St. Francis of Assisi in the year 1223, Ford said.

Ford explained she had the opportunity to view a Boar’s Head Festival last year in West Springfield and it was so powerful and moving that she thought it would be wonderful to bring such a festival to Harwich. It is participatory theater with movement throughout the meetinghouse as total medieval chaos surrounds the audience, she said.

There is frivolity in the village of Harwich-on-Herring, with jesters, puppeteers, beggars, a juggler, street musicians and animals moving about. Everyone will be in full peasant dress, Ford said. There will be a camel, donkey, cow, goats, sheep, and two lamas as well as some birds.

The animals come from R.W. Commerford and Sons, a farm in Goshen, Conn. that takes in abandoned animals which Ford said are hand-raised and very gentle.

The performance will be done in three parts, she said. It begins with the village gathering and chaos with animals and villagers milling about, followed by the arrival of the king and queen and the royal processional celebration which moves on to the stable and the living creche.

There will be a professional chorus providing background song and Christmas carols and lots of musicians. There will be a yule log lighting and the knighting of the one who drove out the wild boar that was terrorizing the village.

“The whole festival is about bringing light into the world,” Ford said. “The ending is beautiful, the Epiphany service is set in this soft and subtle light. This is a beautiful and reflective experience.”

The event is being directed by Jim Byrne of the Harwich Junior Theatre and the music and singing is under the direction of Joseph Marchio. There are approximately 50 people in the cast, primarily local participants, including 15 members of AmeriCorps of Cape Cod.

As the word spread more and more people—musicians and singers—have come forward to participate. Other than the animals and handlers everybody is local, Ford said.

She said Donna Tavano has been extremely busy making the costumes and props and Lars Michelsen, who had his hand in the restoration of the meetinghouse, has created the boar’s head and the cradle. The vast majority of the people are volunteering, Ford added.

This is a great event for young kids, parents and grandparents, Ford said. Tickets are $25 for adults and $12 for children under 12 years of age. The meetinghouse will seat about 225 people and Ford said tickets will be sold at the door if not sold out beforehand. Tickets can be purchased at Boarsheadharwich.brownpapertickets.com.

“I don’t think this has been done on Cape Cod before,” she said. “Harwich certainly hasn’t had anything like it before.”