Medieval Games – Kegel – Bowling Down the Heathens

Medieval Bowling - Kegel

The question of how to have a good time while still remaining in the good graces of the Church must have been the favorite of all those stuffy monks who were too good to play Hazards like everyone else. The problem with medieval fun was it usually involved sinful gambling, and lessons of the greater glory of God were scarcely to be found.

The religious community got the answer to their prayers around the year 300 with the first appearance of bowling, known as Kegel.

Kegel was played with a plank of wood raised above the ground which ended at a platform set slightly lower. Balls varied greatly in size, from less than a pound to forty or more. The idea was to roll the ball down the strait and narrow and strike the three to seventeen pins made of wood, clay, or bone. The pins represented the heathens and the ball was the force of God. Points were given for the heathens that were struck, with extra points for the ones that didn’t fall from the platform into Hell.

Often a reward such as a feast or an oxen was given to the winner just to show God’s appreciation for a job well done. Kegel was often played in the center aisles of churches to celebrate baptisms and feast days. It was also adopted by the first missionaries as a tool to convert the German pagans who must have found the game to be quite a perk of Christianity.

So successful in fact, was the game of Kegel as a tool for conversion, that it was long praised and promoted by the German Church all the way from it’s conception through the sixteenth century. Who says being a monk is boring? When religion can be practiced with a game like Kegel how could it not be fun, even if you have to wear an itchy brown robe and shave your head?

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