Calendar

The calendar is important for both Medieval and earlier Celtic cultures, not only in terms of feast days and holidays but in terms of seasonal changes and consequent changes in appropriate activities and labor. The association between season and labor is exemplified in Irish Brehon law, Medieval Irish and Welsh tales, and in Medieval Books of Hours and Christian festivals and holy days. The Neolithic residents of Ireland and Britain built stone structures like Stonehenge, and Brúgh na Bóinne which was constructed so that dawn marks the Winter solstice inside the passage tomb at Newgrange. In the later Iron age and Medieval eras, we have not only early manuscript references to the four major Celtic feast days of Samain (Modern Irish Samhain), Imbolc, Beltain and Lughnasa, we have fragments of Gaulish calendars, most notably the Coligny calendar. By the time of the Medieval era, the use of a calendar to track the time is clear in references to specific days and dates in the Irish Annals, references to feast days in Medieval Irish and Welsh tales and laws, as well as in the calendars created and used by the church, most notably in the calendar pages of books of hours.

  • Calendar,  Medieval manuscripts

    December from Walters W. 425

        December calendar images typically feature a pig slaughter, a common labor for December. In the case of the fragmentary prayer book from The Walters museum, Walters W. 425, a pig being butchered was the image for November. December calendar images, when they don’t feature a hog being butchered, often feature a boar hunt. Sometimes December calendar images feature a winter scene, or, sometimes, bread baking. The December calendar image from Walters W. 425 f. 12r has a medallion in the margin featuring the astrological sign of Capricorn, the horned ram, and below it, a winter scene featuring a snowball fight, with a rickety windmill (yes, this is Flemish) in…

  • Calendar,  Medieval manuscripts

    November from Walters W. 425

    The November calendar page from The Walters Walters W. 425 features gold scrolling leaves in the margin, with a small Sagittarius astrological sign in a medallion in the margin. The November calendar has a very conventional scene depicting the labor of the month; Walters W. 425 f. 11r shows a man and a woman slaughtering a pig, very much in the spirit of the Middle English lyric about the labors of the months: At Martynesmasse I kylle my swine The typical labor for November in books of hours shows the swine being fattened on acorns, while is hog butchering is often featured as the labor for December. This November scene is very…

  • Calendar,  Medieval manuscripts

    October from Walters W. 425

    Walters W. 425 calendar pages for October, f. 9v and the primary image for the labor of October, Walters W. 425 f. 10r, both have greenery in their marginalia, though f. 9v also includes some striking blossoms, including a Heart’s Ease or Pansy, and  a flower that looks very much like a Chrysanthemum, and one that might be a Zinnia. There’s also a surprising realistic moth at the bottom right. There’s a blue Pansy on the left, something that looks a bit like a Zinnia or possibly another Chrsyanthemum, and the moth. Notice the shadows under the orange flower petals, and under the moth, making them both look three dimensional. The October…

  • Calendar,  Medieval manuscripts

    September from Walters W. 425

    This September calendar image from the fragmentary prayer book The Walters museum MS. W. 425 f. 9r is a fairly typical labor for September in colder climates. A man is walking behind a two-horse plow. The marginalia includes a rondel with scales,  the astrological symbol for Libra, more flowers, and a bird. I confess I am a little puzzled by the cloth on the back of the horses; it’s a piece of tack that I do not recognize.

  • Calendar,  Medieval manuscripts

    August from Walters W.425

    This August image from the fragmentary Walters Museum prayer book Walters W. 425 f. 8r features the astrological symbol for Virgo, the virgin, in the roundel on the top right, more flowers, and a very typical labor for August, threshing grain. The barn is open, allowing the chaff from the dried grain, which looks like wheat, to blow away, and to prevent the workers choking in the dust from the chaff. The flails look to the the sort where the actual flail is joined to the shaft of the handle with chain, allowing it to flex and thus be far more effective at removing the chaff without crushing the grain.…

  • Calendar,  Medieval manuscripts

    June from Walters W.425

    Typical labors for June include sheep-shearing and hay-mowing, (or scything) and raking the dried hay into small piles. Despite what The Walters Museum says about this June calendar image from Walters W.425, “Three figures farming,” they are in fact  two figures scything hay. The two men in the front are mowing or cutting the grass, which once it dries, magically becomes hay. They men are both using scythes mounted on a long shaft called a snath. The snath has an extra handle which makes the two-handed swinging motion of mowing the hay more efficient. As they mow they create small piles of drying hay. Once the hay is dried, it is…

  • Calendar,  Medieval manuscripts

    May from Walters W.425

    This May calendar page from the Walters Museum prayer book fragment W.425 is a very typical May image. The astrological medallion, looking a little worn but centered in the middle of the border on the right margin, shows the Gemini twins. The calendar image shows a very typical May scene of a lady on horseback, using a side saddle and  accompanied by two youths, all of them wearing aristocratic clothing. The man in the front on the left, and the lady, both bear branches of greenery, attesting to their errand to “bring in the May.” This is another border that features naturalistic flower images. The image on the top right…

  • Calendar,  Medieval manuscripts

    April from Walters W.425

    This April calendar image from the Walters W.425 prayer book fragment is another calendar page featuring a naturalistic border, like the March calendar page from Walters W.425. The calendar proper includes the feast of Saint Euphemia on April 7. Taurus, the astrological symbol for April, is a recognizable bull, set off by a medallion. Above and below the astrological medallion naturalistic pink and white flowers add a decorative spring-time touch. I don’t know what the flowers are; I suspect, given the detail, that a Flemish gardener of the 15th century would be able to identify them as popular spring time blossoms. There are, I think, three types of flowers in…

  • Calendar,  Medieval manuscripts

    March from Walters Museum W.425

    Walters Museum W.425 is a fragmentary prayer book. Fortunately, all the calendar images are extant. In the astrological medallion in the border on the left, Aries, the sign of the ram, is featured. The astrological symbol is, again, particularly worn, and I wonder if that’s because someone holding the prayer book open  had a thumb resting there. This March image is the first to feature a “naturalistic” border in the calendar images. On the right is a strawberry, and just below the strawberry, a strawberry blossom. The strawberry, because of the three-lobed leaves was associated with the Trinity, and the white blossoms with purity. The labors of March typically show…

  • Calendar

    New Years 2021

    A yere yernes ful yerne, and yeldez neuer lyke, the forme to the fynisment foldez ful selden. —Sir Gawaine and the Grene Knighte Let us hope that this year is an improvement in every single way over 2020. I hope that you and yours are warm and safe and healthy. I hope the same for the U.S. and people everywhere.