Fully clad in armour he measures 6’7’’ (2 m) and weighs 330.69 Ib (150 kg). This bear of a man proudly wears the green cross on his chest. Brother Marijan, the knight of the Order of Saint Lazarus of Jerusalem, medievalist, reenactor, founder of SHŠ Ordo Military, historical consultant of a new project Zbojník (The Robber). Today he tells Katarzyna Ogrodnik-Fujcik about his love of history, beginnings of his career as an reenactor, plans for the future, but first and foremost about the Lazarists.
Why the Lazarists? Why not the Templars or the Hospitallers?
The Templars, the Hospitallers and the Teutonic Knights are omnipresent. The Lazarists are less known, despite the fact that in the Holy Land they won the decisive battles and they were a force to be reckoned with, not as numerous as the Templars, but often more fearsome. What I find most inspiring about them is one of the rules they followed: do not yield, do not abandon the battlefield, which meant: either win or die. Half measuers were not the option. And this is what I find awe inspiring.
What do we know about the beginnings of the Order?
The Order of Saint Lazarus of Jerusalem was founded to protect and take care of those afflicted with leprosy, it also took care of all those suffering from other skin deseases. The oldest surviving document mentioning this community existing outside the walls of Jerusalem is Commemoratorium de casis dei (sent to Charlemagne by the jerusalemite houses of God). The seat of those Armenian monks, who followed the rule of Saint Basil and whose patron was Saint Lazarus was the seat mentioned in the 12th century in Domus leprosorum itinera hierosolomytana descriptionis terrae sanctae. It had been founded outside the city walls by High Priest John Hyrkanus, the leader of the Jews between 135-105 BC. The letters patent of Prince John , the future John II of France, from c. 1343 confirmed the tradition saying that the community had been founded c. 72 A.D. Most historians, however, doubt it and agree with Pope Pious IV, who in his bulla Inter Assiduas mentions the existence of the order c. 369 A.D. during the pontificate of Saint Damasus I, when Saint Basil the Great was the bishop of Caesarea in the Pontic Mountains.
The bishop was considered the legendary father founder of the order after he created the great leper house near Caesarea. That institution was a community of oriental monks who followed the rules of St Basil and took care of the ill, including the lepers. In the course of the twelfth century they became a military order and in 1489, the pope confirmed its rule as an order of the knights-monks and hospitallers.
It was during the French Revolution that the order was dissolved, sharing the same fate as many other similar institutions. At present the order is an independent national organization whose main job is charity. Since one of the conditions to enter the order is to be baptised, I couldn’t become a member. But I keep in touch with the brothers-knights.
In 2018 you founded SHS Ordo Military, whose leader you have been ever since. But what did you do before? How did your adventure as a medievalist and reenactor begin?
From the time I was a little boy, I showed keen interest in history. In 2007, aged 16 and being a high school student, I took up historical martial arts. Those were my very beginnings and I knew nothing on the subject. I spent the following three years learning and observing. After graduation I entered Řád černých rytířů group from České Kamenice, which I left a few years later. Then I fought as an external member for Malchus group.
After a year, together with two friends, we founded Honesta group. At the same time I took part in the Lazarus project, which fell apart, which I find a little bit ironic. Then I put my skills to the test in HMB, and after leaving Honesta, in April 2018 I founded SHŚ Ordo Military and have become its leader. Until 2016 I didn’t pay attention to historical detail and my equipment was sheer fantasy. But then, participating in the Lazarus project, I took interest in the Order of Saint Lazarus of Jerusalem and become a lazarist.
How does SHŚ Ordo Military work? What military orders do you reconstruct? How many members does your society consist of?
As I have already mentioned, our group was founded in 2018, after I left Honesta. At the time I thought the best solution for me would be a solo career and individual work. However, Michal Kotek, a colleague of mine, kept encouraging me to think my decision over and not give up on the military orders project. He also talked me into founding a society reconstructing such orders.
We decided on reenacting the 2nd half of the 13th century, the period between 1248-1252. As far as the Czech historical reconstruction was concerned, this was a blank space. There was no one to do it, so we have decided to fill in the gap. Besides, deep down in my heart I have always belonged to this particular period. Even as a child, upon hearing ‘’a knight’’ I saw chain mails and great helms. 1250 meant the seventh crusade (1248-1252), and Acre fell in 1291, which marked the end of the kingdom beyond the sea.
Our main goal, as a society is to reconstruct the military orders of the Holy Land between 1250-1291. Each member can decide what military order he wants to represent. If he cannot make up his mind, other members can decide for him to fill in the gap in the structure of the group, for instance. In our society we have internal and external members. I am the leader. There is also a vice-leader. There are members and novices.
The leader has a final word in making all decisions. There are seven military orders we reconstruct: the Templars, the Hospitallers, the Teutonic Knights, the Lazarists, Knights of the Holy Sepulchre, Order of the Crusaders with a red star in a blue field and the Knights of Saint Thomas. Of some we have a great abundance of information, of others we know very little.
At present in our group there are fifteen internal members and three external. We have two Lazarists, a knight and a sergeant; two Templars, a knight and a sergeant; two Teutonic Knights both sergeants; one Hospitaller sergeant. There is also a blacksmith, a pilgrim and a nobleman with a servant
What do you do? What projects do you participate in?
As a society we take part in different historical events in the Czech Republic. We have also been planning to launch educational projects for schools.
We have just finished work on Zbojník, a new independent Czech film, in which we played different roles, helped with scenography and costumes. I was responsible for the historical accuracy. I consulted on the screenplay and worked on set. I was also in charge of reconstructing the Iron and Golden King, Přemysl Otakar II of Bohemia.
Zbojník is an interesting project. Directoral debut of Leoš Kastner, the young director from Plzeň…
Yes, in fact Zbojnik has been made by students of filmography. This meant some difficulties, mainly financial ones.The film budget was limited, but we did what we could to do it right.
When recreating the Iron and Golden King we decided on vintage (laugh), but, of course, we wanted to recapture the royal splendour, too. The chain mail was not a problem, I took care of it myself, but other elements of the king’s armour were quite a challenge. Working on a surcoat we used the pattern from the king’s burial robes. When it came to his shield we decided to use the white lion in the red field, although doubts aroused whether Premysl Otakar did use those particular colours, because he might have worn different one.
The most challenging part was the helm. The depiction in his seal shows the king in what was probably an early example of a great helm. Unfortunately, without the original having been preserved and no better image it’s hard to say. Together with the armorer František Slabyhoud, we found the following solution: we used the surviving pieces of a helm dating to the same period and did our best to reconstruct it as accurately as possible, so that it could be both functional and decorative.
A king could afford a representative armour, so we decorated the helm accordingly. The ‘’cross’’ on it was hand painted with gold by one of our members, Tomáš Dvořák. To reconstruct the crest, we used the depiction dating to c. 1270 and preserved at Gozzoburg castle in Krems au der Donau, Austria. Our project was consulted and approved by Vladimir Mika, the historian specialising in heraldry. He wrote a short study about it and praised our work.
Two carved slats were made of limewood and decorated with the real eagle feathers I got from my fellow falconers. No worries, no eagle sacrificed its life for the film’s sake (laugh). The feathers were applied in gold leaf. The silk mantling had the lime leaves sewn on. It was made by Zuzana Melka Wittmannová, to whom we are most grateful. The crest was attached to the helm and our armorer worked on details.
You can find out more about the film Zbojník on its official page. The post production is in progress. You can support us using this special account:
KASTNER LEOŠ | Transparentní účet | Komerční banka (kb.cz)
Zbojnik looks really interesting. I am going to watch it. That’s for certain. But what are your plans for the future of the SHŠ Ordo Military ?
Due to personal and health reasons, this season will see me taking part only in a few events. Currently I am spending my time working on my armour, which keeps me busy, and translating a great study on the Lazarists from French into Czech, so I never get bored. We are going to complete a few projects we have been planning for a few years now. One of them involves making a short motion picture.
As a society we are organizing two training sessions this year, one in spring, the other one in autumn. This means spending the whole weekend in meetings not only of our members but also with invited guests. The members of our society are from different parts of the Czech Republic so this is the only opportunity to train as a team, but also discuss each member’s individual progress.
Every member works on his equipment, for there is always field for improvement. Currently our primary goal is a field chapel. Last year we ordered candles and candlesticks for a good start. The candlesticks are accurate copies of the original brass candlesticks found near Bethlehem and dating to the 12th and 13th centuries.
The planned events include:
Battle of Kvasina, siege of Curia Vitkov, Battle of Mielnik, Battle of Privory and Grape Harvesting Mielnik. These events have been confirmed.
Featured photo courtesy of @Rose Wings Fotografka
Thank you. I wish you best of luck with all your upcoming projects.