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

    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.  

  • Calendar,  Medieval manuscripts

    December from the Hours of Henry VIII

    This image for December from the Hours of Henry VIII is a really standard image for the labor of December, so much so that I suspect some master pattern book for books of hours is involved. The pigs, shown fattening on mast in November, are now slaughtered and being prepared for butchering. The butcher with his cleaver on the table stands ready, sharpening his knife, already bloodied from the pigs. The weird vaguely pink pointed tongues behind the pigs are meant to be flames; the bristles on the boars are being singed off in preparation for butchering. You don’t generally butcher sows if you can avoid it. There’s a reason…

  • Calendar,  Medieval manuscripts

    November from the Hours of Henry VIII

    The labor for November is often a butchering scene; typically, hogs. But another popular labor for November scenes in books of hours is that of feeding acorns or nuts “mast” to swine, as here and in the Très Riches Heures. In this image from the Morgan Library’s Hours of Henry VIII, as in the November scene form the Très Riches Heures, we see a man allowing swine to graze on the fallen acorns, while another man beats the trees with a stick to encourage the nuts to fall. Here too the trees are pollards, the lower limbs having been removed for their wood. Notice that both men are dressed warmly…

  • Calendar,  Medieval manuscripts

    October from the Hours of Henry VIII

    This October labor from the Morgan Library’s Hours of Henry the VIII is actually two labors; on the left, a nattily dressed man in a hat, vest, stockings and shoes is sowing seeds, while on the right another man is ploughing the filed with a team of horses. The crop being sowed is almost certainly a variety of winter wheat, destined to be harvested in summer. The wheat sprouts before the snow falls, and continues, somewhat somnolently, to grow under its winter blanket of snow. The man with with the seeds is scatteringly, rather than planting in rows. You can see a sack with additional seeds on the ground behind…

  • Calendar,  Medieval manuscripts

    September from the Hours of Henry VIII

    Just about anywhere in Europe that could grow grapes in the Medieval era, did (and does). Tasks associated with wine-making, like pruning the vines and pressing the grapes to produce juice, are often featured in books of hours as the labor of September. It’s the labor depicted in the September page of the the Morgan Library’s Hours of Henry VIII. This picture shows the complete wine making process from picking to barreling. It is still essentially the same process followed today. The Morgan Library notes the gendered division of labor. In the background women sitting on the ground pick the grapes. This is more accurately described as cutting the grape…